A domesticated dog’s quiet life is turned upside down when a rescue dog is introduced, leading to a crazy tale of two enemies miles from home and coming up against a wild band of misfits and a group of animals plotting to rescue them and bring them home.
Director: Chris Renaud
Starring: Louis C.K., Eric Stonestreet, Kevin Hart, Steve Coogan, Ellie Kemper, Bobby Moynihan, Lake Bell, Dana Carvey, Albert Broooks, Jenny Slate
Run Time: 98 Minutes
Release Date: Out Now
After finding remarkable success – considering the quality of Minions, remarkable indeed – with the Despicable Me franchise (and a little yellow creature-based spinoff), Illumination Entertainment have stepped out of their comfort zone to this time take a look at what our pets get up to when those front doors slam shut and we to go work.
Featuring a voice cast that proves strong, though many will likely struggle to recognise, The Secret Life of Pets introduces us to Max and his new housemate Duke. Yes, it’s the familiar story of someone new moving in and the existing occupant feeling threatened and wanting the newcomer out. And yes, it is rather like Woody and Buzz. And that isn’t where the Toy Story comparisons end; we are also introduced to a wide array of friends in Max’s group, all of which are left to their own devices when their oblivious owners leave them on their own during the day.
As the movie goes on, we also meet Kevin Hart’s Snowball, a psychotic bunny that ticks the ‘cute but crazy’ box in a movie that seems to have a list of boxes to tick. It’s not that there aren’t some funny moments, as there really are, but the whole film feels like a series of homages to big-screen capers seen before. Elsewhere, the cast of fellow pets is a mixed bag at best; the ‘Flushed Pets’ group of abandoned animals is good for an early visual laugh, but little else afterward, while the assembled group of good guys don’t offer much without the lead Max at the forefront.
Despite the shortcomings found in the cast of characters, this is an enjoyable outing. Some of the set-pieces, including the opening introduction scenes, are a genuine delight. A word too for the cast, for while they may not all be household names found in many an animated movie these days, it is a strong line-up of comedic talent, and they are provided with a strong enough script to display those talents. Hart pretty much steals the show, bringing the laughs while lending his voice to the crazy bunny (although the joke begins to tire some time before the end comes).
But while the script offers plenty to laugh at, the story itself is found lacking. Once you get past the initial joke of pets doing the silliest things once the humans leave – the stuff in the trailers, basically – things go south. Likely due to a lack of originality and an insistence on going down a well-trodden movie path, the movie never really gets out of second gear. And yet, this is still a movie that I would happily recommend to all members of the family. The cast and their talents really do come to the rescue here, and you will find yourself more than happy to, just for once, put aside the issues and just enjoy the animals.
If you want to compare it to Illumination’s other work, it isn’t as good as the original Despicable Me, but it easily surpasses Minions (and then some), and with a little more care taken with the story and the right casting, you could see something of a franchise being made out of one or two of the characters.
Those lives may not be so secret after all.