Classic Review: The Secret Life of Pets (2016)

Since I’ve started this site, I’ve written a lot of reviews. In case you missed some of my earlier ones, I would like to share an older review of “The Secret Life of Pets” which originally appeared here.

For the critters living in a Manhattan apartment building, the answer is: whatever they want! A terrier named Max (Louis C.K.) regularly invites his friends to hang out at his place while his owner Katie (Ellie Kemper) is gone, but his quiet life is upended when said owner also takes in Duke (Eric Stonestreet), a stray mutt whom Max instantly dislikes. Their feud eventually causes both of them to get lost in New York City, and as they work together to find their way home, they cross paths with a vicious bunny named Snowball (Kevin Hart) who plans to lead a group of abandoned pets on a mission of revenge against humanity.

Another one from my list of most anticipated films of 2016. It had me ever since the first teaser trailer (above). There have been many animals films with the most recent being the great Zootopia. Everybody has pets but there hasn’t really been a film made about them. This is what fascinated me so much about the trailer in that I was curious with where the studio behind the Despicable Me films, Illumination Entertainment, would take this concept.

Everybody knows that before every Pixar film, there is an animated short and this film is no different as it features a short of its own. For the few who haven’t seen the Despicable Me films may be lost here as it features the most popular thing to come out of that series in the Minions. Everybody also knows how much the Minions love bananas and are willing to go great lengths for them. This short was another example of how far they will go which ended with hilarious results.

For those who have seen the majority of the trailers, the beginning of the film won’t come as much of a surprise. We first get to meet Max (Louis C.K.) and learn how he met his owner Katie (Kemper). We also see the strength of their relationship and how Max loves Katie and Katie loves Max. So it really came as a shock for Max when Katie suddenly introduces a new dog to their dynamic in a giant, stray dog named Duke (Stonestreet). Of course Max doesn’t like Duke since, in his mind, Duke’s presence disrupts his life and ruins his and Katie’s relationship. Max’s dislike causes him to feud with Duke and tries to get rid of him. One of their battles gets too far which leads to both of them getting lost and forces them to work together to find a way back home.

Max and Duke weren’t the only animals here as there were plenty of other here. Some were domesticated and some were not. Max’s domesticated friends included a white Pomeranian named Gidget (Jenny Slate), a hyperactive pug named Mel (Bobby Moynihan), an indifferent cat named Chloe (Lake Bell), a laid-back dachshund named Buddy (Hannibal Buress), a parakeet named Sweet Pea (Tara Strong), and a guinea pig named Norman (Chris Renaud) who keeps getting himself lost. These characters had a surprising amount of personality and were great together with each having their own moments to shine. Many will probably think that Hart’s bunny named Snowball stole scenes but in reality, it was Slate’s Gidget. Gidget was a great character who was full of energy and personality and had some great lines here where many of them were unfortunately in the trailers. The other main animals were a group of abandoned pets led by Snowball. He and his group had their own story but it can easily get forgotten due to Hart’s over the top performance.

The actual plot below the surface is pretty simple and consists of two polar opposites overcoming various challenges and adversity and getting closer. There were definitely a lot of parallels with Toy Story, almost a Toy Story with animals instead of toys, but that was okay. Max and Duke’s journey wasn’t exactly the most original and was kind of predictable seeing that this is a kid’s film but it was still fun to watch. Sure some of the turns they took were better than others but that’s to be expected. The best turns here have to be a short trip to a sausage factory involving a great musical number and obviously running into Snowball and his abandoned pet friends.

The thing about this film is that it does many things well but none of them were particularly groundbreaking in that we’ve seen this in some form before. Because of this, a lot of this won’t be very memorable with some of the character, Gidget and Snowball, probably being the most memorable. The animation was good with its abundance of bright colors but wasn’t overly mind-blowing. All of the vocal performances weren’t mind-blowing either but good here with each voice fitting each character.

Overall, this film does not bring anything new here but what it does bring is an enjoyable film with a good story and performances.

Score: 8/10

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