The Secret Life of Pets (dir.Chris Renaud and Yarrow Cheney)

Posted: July 22, 2016 in Uncategorized

“The Secret Life of Pets” is a perfectly cute, beautifully animated film that just never is quite as funny as you expect or hope. It would seem that the opportunities for humor by imagining what pets do when you leave the house would be infinite, but unfortunately the funniest moments are in the opening sequences that were already in the initial teaser trailer. The film also gets more absurd (bunny driving a bus) than it really needs to get.

The main character is Max (Louis CK), a dog that really loves his owner. One day that owner, Katie (Elle kemper) brings home another dog, the huge and hairy Duke (Eric Stonestreet) and the basic jealousy Max feels is similar to what a kid may feel when they get a new baby sibling brought home. Sadly, this is the closest thing to a message the film truly delivers (accept your new sibling). After Duke is both intentionally and unintentionally a jerk, Max decides he can frame Duke for bad behavior to get Katie to throw him out. This keeps Duke in line for a while, until Duke decides to maybe get Max lost. Through various happening, both Max and Duke end up away from home and trying to get back to Katie.

Of course, we get a colorful ensemble to go along with our main characters. There’s Gidget (Jenny Slate, though she sounds like Jennifer Tilly in this film), who lives across the street and has a crush on Max; Mel (Bobby Moynihan), the pug who is taken with barking at squirrels and peanut butter; Chloe (Lake Bell), a fat and disinterested cat; Sweet Pea (Tara Strong), a bird; and Tiberius (Albert Brooks), a hawk who lives on the roof and tries really hard not to eat most members of the cast. This is the team that goes out to search and find Max and Duke when they go missing.

In their journey, Max and Duke wind up with an odd revolutionary faction of animals that have been tossed aside or otherwise forgotten by their owners. They are lead by a white bunny named Snowball (Kevin Hart, in his least annoying film role so far), who is the Che Guevara of cute animals. Snowball and his group want to wage war on all humans for tossing them aside, and view domesticated pets as the equivalents of Uncle Toms. This storyline of the film is the most absurd (a live pig was used for tattoo apprentice practice?) but also holds the most untapped potential. This film had a good opportunity to point out some of the absurdity with how we put different animals into arbitrary boxes. While it’s true not all animals can be domesticated, it is odd how we see some animals as pet material (like dogs and cats), some as exotic, some as friendly but not necessarily pets (horses), some as largely food sources (cows), and some as things fun to murder (deer).  Aside from size and cuteness, there isn’t much rhyme or reason if you really thing about it. Sadly, the film doesn’t really care to make any sort of message about animals and their rights or autonomy, and simply has Snowball’s faction exist to add extra danger to the protagonists.

The film also fails at going for the big emotional moments. There’s a sequence in the film where we find out about Duke’s previous owner. There’s even a fun montage of their good times together which seems to be setting itself up for an “Up”-style downfall. Well, we do find out about that owner dying, and while Duke is briefly upset, the film immediately forgets about this trauma to have an action sequence involving dog catchers, and we never get to feel any of the emotion that, perhaps, we take for granted in animation films made by Pixar.

“The Secret Life of Pets” is ultimately a film that is very pretty to look at and will make you smile a lot, but the laughs are just not as often and as hearty enough as they should be given the simple but gangbusters concept of the movie. I also found myself getting a little bored toward the end, despite the film’s relatively short running time. The film was made by the same company that brought us “Despicable Me” and “Minions” (a Minions short even precedes the film) and it’s obvious that they’re not up to playing with the big boys of Pixar just yet. B-.

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