The Secret Life of Pets

Review by Adam Woodward @AWLies

Directed by

Chris Renaud Yarrow Cheney

Starring

Ellie Kemper Jenny Slate Louis CK

Anticipation.

Between Despicable Me and Minions, Illumination Entertainment have quickly established themselves as a major animation house.

Enjoyment.

If you’ve watched the trailer you’ve already seen the best bits.

In Retrospect.

A not-so incredible journey.

This animated adventure from the makers of Minions fails to live up to its initial promise.

Ever since it was introduced in 1935, many great minds have spent countless hours deliberating the paradox of Schrödinger’s cat, but no one ever stopped to ask what the cat might be getting up to inside its hypothetical box. Maybe the possibilities are just too vast for the human brain to contemplate, or maybe it’s because the truth about how pets behave when left to their own devices is that there isn’t anything secret about it.

As much as we like to imagine all sorts of wacky shenanigans going down the second we leave, we know that in reality it’s a case of eat, sleep, pine, repeat for our furry companions. Still, even though Pixar essentially got there first 20 years ago with Toy Story, ‘what pets do at home’ is an intriguing set-up for a feature-length computer-animated comedy – one you’d expect any screenwriter worth their salt to really go wild with. So how is it that this latest venture from Illumination Entertainment, the people who brought you Despicable Me and Minions, turned out so… tame?

The first and most glaring problem is that the entire sell of this movie is used simply to bookend a stock big city caper that is never as funny or as interesting as the basic premise. No sooner are we shown a glimpse into the private habits of various domesticated critters – including an adrenaline-junkie budgie and a poodle with a penchant for speed metal, who should have been given a lot more screen time – than we’re let loose in New York City, chasing a shaggy dog tale that directors Chris Renaud and Yarrow Cheney fail to keep a leash on. It’s unusual to chastise a film for being too ambitious in scope, but you get the sense that if the filmmakers had kept things simple, narratively speaking, The Secret Life of Pets might have actually worked.

The greater issue here, however, is one of scale. Part of the magic of the Toy Story films – not to mention other obvious touch points like Oliver & Company and The Brave Little Toaster – is that they allow us to see the world from a different, pint-sized point of view. The urban setting may be instantly familiar but we don’t really experience or explore it from the pets’ perspective, and as such it never feels like an especially daunting or exciting place to get lost in.

In fact, despite running into trouble at practically every turn – primarily in the form of a sociopathic bunny named Snowball (Kevin Hart) and his underground terrorist syndicate ‘Flushed Pets’ (band name!) – the film’s two canine protagonists, Max (Louis CK) and Duke (Ernest Stonestreet), navigate Manhattan with relative ease over the course of a single eventful day. They even luck out by breaking into a wiener factory completely unimpeded, at which point their homeward journey takes a brief detour into Willy Wonka/Somewhere in Dreamland territory. It’s a surreal scene that frankly doesn’t fit with the rest of the film, but at least it breaks the tedious cycle of poop jokes, disorienting set pieces and subliminal Minions marketing.

Published 20 Jun 2016

Tags: Illumination Entertainment Minions Pixar Toy Story

Anticipation.

Between Despicable Me and Minions, Illumination Entertainment have quickly established themselves as a major animation house.

Enjoyment.

If you’ve watched the trailer you’ve already seen the best bits.

In Retrospect.

A not-so incredible journey.

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