Director(s): Chris Renaud, Yarrow Cheney
Starring: Jenny Slate, Kevin Hart, Ellie Kemper, Albert Brooks, Lake Bell, Eric Stonestreet, Louis C.K (all voice)
Sitting in a cinema screen full of children on a Saturday afternoon isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I just had to attend this preview screening of ‘The Secret Life of Pets’. I’d seen the trailers many times and laughed my head off at the antics the pets get up to when their owners leave the house; everything from a poodle who rocks out to heavy metal and a cat who steals the contents of the fridge. I have pets – two pretty cool cats – and I’ve always been curious what they get up to when I’m at work. Do they sit and snooze happily all day? Do they get their friends around for a rager? Luckily, ‘The Secret Life of Pets’ has all of the answers.
It’s the latest offering from Illumination Entertainment, the masterminds behind the once-was-funny-now-really-annoying ‘Minions’ franchise. I still have a soft spot in my heart for ‘Despicable Me’, so I was excited to see what this new offering brought to the table. Set in New York, we enter an apartment block full of a variety of different owners and their pets. Our protagonist, Max (Louis C.K), is the established pet, a Jack Russell who’s lived with his owner Katie (Ellie Kemper) since he was a little cute puppy. Duke (Eric Stonestreet) is the interloper — a giant Newfoundland from the pound who Katie takes home. Max is instantly jealous, and the two of them clash, beginning a battle for Katie’s attention that doesn’t end until they’re both collarless and on the run from animal control. They’re both aided (or hindered) by a rag-tag group of abandoned pets – the “flushed pets”, made up of a fuzzy bunny with psychotic tendencies, an ex-tattoo studio pig, and a crocodile, amongst others. As well as showcasing what our pets get up to when we’re not home, ‘The Secret Life of Pets’ also follows Max and Duke on a crazy animal adventure as they frantically try to return home to their owner. Sounds good, right?
Technically, yes. The animation and design of the film is just wonderful. I’ve come to expect nothing less from Illumination, and they definitely pulled it out of the bag. It’s bright, colourful, and perfect for kids. The problems with ‘The Secret Life of Pets’ come from its lack of originality; look closely enough and you’ll see the writers have taken heavy inspiration from ‘Toy Story’ – what with its gang of mismatched friends and the fact that the owners have no idea what the characters get up to when they’re not home. I mean, there’s even a sad flashback scene reminiscent of ‘When She Loved Me’ from ‘Toy Story 2’ – could it be any more obvious?
Surprisingly, I also found that this film is not that funny. One of my favourite things about family films is when they sneak some adult-only jokes in the script to give a nod to those stressed out parents having to endure the film with their bratty kids. There’s none of that here, as most of the jokes fall flat, even for the kids. Even the psychotic villains and the crazy gang of “flushed pets” fail to spice up this bland mismatched stew of a comedy. The only redeeming part of the action is a ‘Grease’ and ‘The Simpsons’ inspired musical number featuring singing sausages – which is equally the most ridiculous and most believable part of this whacky film. In short, don’t bother: rewatch ‘Zootopia’ instead.