By: Muneeb Arshid
So far, we’ve had two outstanding mainstream animations this year in Zootopia and Finding Dory following on from a year where we had Inside Out and Anomalisa. Later this year, we are expecting Kubo and the Two Strings from Laika Entertainment. In the meantime, we’ve got yet another animation, this time from the studio that brought us the Despicable Me series, otherwise known as Illumination Entertainment. Oh, and if that wasn’t obvious enough, there’s also a very funny Minions short attached to the beginning of this film reminding you that The Secret Life of Pets is indeed from that same studio.
The Secret Life of Pets is the story of Max (voiced by Louie C.K.), a Jack Russell terrier who lives harmoniously with his pet owner Katie (voiced by Ellie Kemper) until his life is rudely awakened by the revelation that he is to have a “brother” when Katie brings home a large, shaggy, Newfoundland dog named Duke (voiced by Eric Stonestreet). What inevitably happens afterward is a remarkably similar “run and chase” story to that of Toy Story that, you know, uses animals in place of toys. To be honest, it’s both similar and different to Toy Story but the film’s premise, on the whole, remains quite comparable to the 1995 classic as it is ultimately about what happens when you leave your pets alone for the day -as it was for Toy Story where- with more finesse. Toy Story was about what your toys did when not in use by their “owners.” Other notable characters in the film include Kevin Hart voicing a rabbit named Snowball who seeks vengeance against humankind and their domesticated pets after he is abandoned by his owner. Jenny Slate voices Gidget the white Pomeranian, and leads the search for Max and Duke after they become lost in New York along with her friends Mel (voiced by Bobby Moynihan), Chloe the tabby cat (voiced by Lake Bell), Buddy (voiced by Hannibal Buress), Pops (voiced by Dana Carvey) and most importantly, Tiberius the red-tailed hawk (voiced by Albert Brooks) who is quite savage until he receives a stern talking-to from none other than Gidget.
Of course, as mentioned earlier, there are many elements of this story that are similar to Toy Story, most notably, well… the entire premise of it. However, the run and chase sequences along with the fantastic animation style itself harks back to a newly minted Disney Animation classic from earlier this year, that being Zootopia. What this film ultimately lacks is the depth that those other two films contained, not only with the surface story, but in regards to providing an underlying message that a lot of great animations are able to include. While not being a major letdown because of that, this does leave The Secret Life of Pets in a precarious situation where it can’t be mentioned with those other films or other Pixar, Disney, and Studio Ghibli animations. There’s a certain level of perfection with the story-telling and the animation and the direction that this film slightly lacks. However, it would be entirely wrong of me to say that I hated the film, or even thought it was average. It was very fun to watch not only the elongated chase sequences but also the voice actors doing their thing, bringing to life the chemistry that animation characters bring to the screen from their “fake” voices and actions.
The voice casting is magnificently done with standouts being Kevin Hart, doing essentially his Kevin Hart schpiel playing Snowball the rabbit, and Steve Coogan, who plays a Sphynx cat living in a back alley with his gang of the “not so tough” street cats. There are elements of this film that are similar to its production company cousins, mostly due to the fact that the director Chris Renaud was also the director for both of the Despicable Me movies. The animation is very similar to the Despicable Me universe and you could honestly have taken this to be a rendition of New York that would be found in those movies had the films been based in a modern-day New York (as Minions is set in 1960s New York). However, I still prefer the extensive detail that was found in Zootopia, as I found its animation to be far superior than what we got here due to some of the set pieces within the city looking very cartoony with characters juxtaposed against it that are beautifully rendered. This was disappointing, to say the least.
At the end of the day, these are minor issues that existed in the film, and I would be lying if I admitted that they hindered my viewing experience. There was immense fun to be had, not a ton of laugh-out-loud moments, but enough light-heartedness throughout where all members of the audience had a great time.
Thus, the TFL team gives The Secret Life of Pets a grade of B- (7.4/10).