The Secret Life of Pets tells the story of Max the dog and his newly adopted ‘brother’, Duke, as it reveals what the pets of New York City really get up to when the humans aren’t home.
Illumination Entertainment are the production company behind the film and also produce the Despicable Me franchise, which they don’t let you forget in a hurry. Starting with an amusing enough animated short, “Minions Mower”, before having Minion imagery popping up throughout – including pets dressing up as them. Speaking of the preluding short, the Minions are certainly much more entertaining in small doses. Their own feature length movie may have underwhelmed last summer but short films like this are where they’re definitely much more entertaining.
Anyway, onto the main film in question. The storyline seems to have mimicked that of the Toy Story quite significantly, just with anthropomorphic animals finding their way home instead of toys. One of the main flaws at the start is that Max and Duke actually both seem like quite annoying characters, with Max being too self-centred & overbearing and Duke seeming slightly aggressive. However as time goes on and the two dogs warm to each other, it becomes much easier to warm to them.
While it might not be the most original story ever, and without some of the heartbreaking moments that the Pixar films are famous for, this is one of those films that counts more on its characters and gags. Amusing characters is something that it has in spades, with Gidget the dog (Jenny Slate) and Snowball the bunny (Kevin Hart) proving to be standouts. There are also a few scenes that had me in stitches, most notably a pretty trippy scene in a sausage factory, as well as some giggle-worthy jokes and sight gags throughout.
Kevin Hart and Jenny Slate are just a couple of names in the pretty stellar voice cast, which also includes Louis CK, Eric Stonestreet, and Steve Coogan. All of these big names in comedy also help this to rise above other animations as they add a bit of zest and comic timing to the pretty predictable proceedings.
The standard of animation here is also quite impressive. Whilst it is clearly intended to look more cartoonish than, for example, Finding Nemo, it doesn’t look like it was done on the cheap given that its budget is roughly half of that of most Pixar and Dreamworks films. This is definitely the film that is seeing Illumination start to branch out from the franchise that made them a reputable name to compete in the big leagues of animation.
The Secret Life of Pets isn’t quite on the superior level of other animations this year (Zootropolis and Finding Dory). It certainly doesn’t get any points for originality but it makes up for that with some memorable characters and decent humour to make it one of the better films so far in this pretty abysmal summer blockbuster season.
4 out of 5