After the ADHD-fueled, ecstasy-induced hype that was Minions, Illumination Entertainment returns with an original film (surprise!) — The Secret Life of Pets. While it is not as insane as Minions, the animation studio makes sure to include enough of the crazy, hyperactive fun that they’re known for.
A Toy Story-inspired animated flick, The Secret Life of Pets explores what pets do when their owners leave for work. Louis C.K. stars as the protagonist Max, a spoiled dog who lives a perfect life with his neighbor pets in NYC, that is until his owner brings home a new large dog called Duke. After fighting over territory, the two get lost and stuck in Brooklyn while on the run from renegade animals who fight against domestication, lead by a terrific Kevin Hart as the evil leader bunny.
The Secret Life of Pets is predictable and ultimately forgettable, struggling to reach the emotional depth of the Pixar movies that inspired it. That being said, it is still quite funny and enjoyable. The characters are richly drawn and dynamic, and save the movie from being too dull and boring with its muddled and uninteresting plot.
Standout characters include Jenny Slate as Gidget, an adorable, fluffy little dog with a huge crush on Max, promptly her rescue mission. Turning the misogynistic stereotype on its head, Gidget saves Max by beating up all the animals trying to hurt him — and surprisingly, that wins him over and they embark on a budding romance at the end of the movie. Lake Bell stars as Chloe, an apathetic, lazy cat that is the exact replica of what an anthropomorphic cat would be, and delivers some of the movie’s best one-liners. Finally, Kevin Hart steals the show as the cute but vicious bunny, Snowball, that is trying to start a revolution against human owners. Whether he is beating up police officers or mourning over the loss of his duck friend (R.I.P. Ricky!), Snowball is the perfect balance between the character and Hart as a performer.
Directors Chris Renaud and Yarrow Cheney use New York as a great setting — the bright colors and exaggerated use of light brings out the best of lower Manhattan. Self-deprecating humor works well here, as Snowball gripes about hipsters moving to Brooklyn and the presence of sewer alligators. Although these jokes are not the most original, little hints like these help to keep the older audience entertained while the younger ones will be satisfied with physical gags.
As the movie reaches a conclusion, we learn more about Duke and his tragic background. Here’s where the movie attempts to pull on your heartstrings — or at least I believe so. It’s such a half-hearted attempt at genuine feeling; it gives off the impression that the directors didn’t care about connecting with the audience’s emotion. Luckily, the movie doesn’t spend too much time on it, and simply returns to light-hearted, family fun.
Verdict: 3 out of 5
There’s not too much to say about The Secret Life of Pets. It’s a watchable movie that is enjoyable once, only through the grace of funny characters and occasional laugh-out-loud moments. If you focus too much on the plot, you’ll easily get bored, but it’s a diverting experience even if it doesn’t reach the heights of Zootopia.