The Secret Life of Pets is the latest film from animation house The Illumination Pictures who are famous for creating the Despicable Me movies and the Minions but they seem to want to widen their range considering their next couple of films are this and a film called Sing which, judging from the first two trailers looks like Zootopia does the X Factor, as you can imagine, knowing my taste in music and Television, I am not too thrilled to see that one.
The Secret Life of Pets comes to us from Director Chris Renaud who directed both of the Despicable Me movies and Dr Seuss adaptation The Lorax, which I wasn’t a fan of because I think it really over simplified the original Dr Seuss book and put in a lot of additions which were really unnecessary and really missed the point and a lot of the subtlety of the book. In fact I asked the son of one of my friends what was his opinion and he agreed with me that the original and short animated film was much better. Even the target demographic weren’t buying into that. The Despicable Me movies on the other hand, I am a bit of a fan of. I don’t think they’re great animated films, but you know what, for family viewing, they are really nice, charming films and I never minded being stuck in a cinema with them. I am glad there is a Despicable Me 3 coming out next year, though personally I think this should be the last one as they are pushing it to its absolute limit which was proved by The Minions not getting as much success as they had hoped.
My first exposure to The Secret Life of Pets was actually all the way back to this time last year when I went to see Song Of The Sea and I saw the trailer at that showing, incidentally it was the teaser trailer which I put in my review of Ninja Turtles last week, just to demonstrate my point. The trailer is fantastic, it’s one of the funniest things I had seen all of 2015 and I still think it’s really funny, but the big question was would this film be worth seeing, like I initially thought, or would it reflect my thoughts when I was shown the trailer a few weeks later, where I thought, have they put all of their eggs in one basket and there isn’t much else in the final film? Well that’s what we are here for, to find out, let’s see if Secret Life of Pets will give Illumination Pictures a boost, or delegitimalise it just after they got legitimised.
Taking place in New York, Max (played by Louis C.K.) is the dog of Katie (played by Ellie Kemper) and is loving life, that is until one day she brings home a new dog called Duke (played by Eric Stonestreet) and things are turned completely upside down. After clashing back and forth Duke and Max get mistaken for strays and are taken by Animal Control, but are rescued by Snowball the rabbit (played by Kevin Hart) to work for him. Snowball doesn’t want any animals to be owned by humans after he was abandoned by his owner a magician and vows to take down all humans and after discovering that Max and Duke have lied to him, he vows to take them down as well. Can Max and Duke make their way back to Katie’s apartment in time for her to come home?
Secret Life of Pets aims in concept to do for pets what Toy Story did for toys, and it does succeed with that, however it doesn’t go fully out with the concept, but aside from that, it really is a genuinely funny film. There are a lot of good laughs, a lot of well told jokes, some cool ideas and set pieces, and I would even say I was legitimately entertained by this film, however, it is not amazing, it’s a very middling film in terms of how you would rank it against other animation films. It’s not as much as a corporate sell out as Angry Birds but it doesn’t have the ingenious writing of something like Zootopia. The first trailer gave away a lot of the really great laughs out of the film, but there are other jokes that land bullseye and all the animals get at least one funny line here or there. The one that surprisingly, doesn’t that many jokes is Max, which is very weird considering you have Louis C.K. who is genuinely very funny to play him. He is essentially playing a straight man for most of the film and that feels rather a bizarre casting. I honestly think that judging by the trailer and how the film turned out you could easily have made this a collection of shorts that all tied together, say akin to Little Britain or something like that, because there is a very thin plot going on here. It’s very standard, animals get lost and need to make their way back home, throw in your villain and your co community set pieces and you’re sorted. That’s not to say it’s bad per se it does that plot very well and I was genuinely entertained watching it. The funniest characters being Chloe the Cat and Tiberius the Hawk, who were absolutely gut-bustingly hilarious. There are a couple of decent funny lines, big problem, however, is that most of them are all given away in the adverts and trailers for the film, in fact if you have been keeping abreast with most of the trailers and press material for this film, you have virtually seen the entire movie!! The jokes do still kind of hit bullseye, it’s actually surprising how good some of these jokes are and there were plenty of laughs in my cinema screening.
I think this films will appeal to younger kids and the humour is slightly more focused on them, but that’s not to say that adults won’t get something out of it. It’s not really doing anything wrong, there is very little I can say against the film, however, there is not much I can say in its favour at the same time, apart from the fact that it is legitimately funny. There are very few moment that feel out of place, with the exception of the fantasy sequence at the sausage factory, which can be summed up at this film’s weird ‘out of place’ moment or what critics would call ‘the big lipped alligator moment’. For those of you that don’t know, ‘the big lipped alligator moment’ is reference to the big lipped alligator sequence from All Dogs Go To Heaven. It’s a scene that comes from out of nowhere it’s not foreshadowed in any way shape or form, is really weird, really contrasts with what we have seen up to that point and afterwards, is never mentioned again. Another good example, is the pink elephants sequence in Dumbo.
The direction is what really sells it. The voice actors are clearly directed very well as the punch lines definitely hit the point. I will go into more detail in the acting portion of this review. I feel like this film had a lot of time and effort put into it, it doesn’t feel like a quick cash grab, and that feels a real benefit to me considering how many kids films feel like that nowadays.
The characters are all fun and entertaining. You won’t fall in love with any of them but they are entertaining enough to want to hang around with them. I have already mentioned that my favourites are Chloe and Tiberius. Of course, I love the poodle that listens to heavy metal when its owner is out, for obvious reasons. The real problem is that, because the narrative is rather thin, that whenever it tries to go above and beyond what it was attempting to do before, it doesn’t really succeed. For example, there is meant to be a couple of moments that attempt to be dramatic towards the last third of the film, and they don’t really succeed because they haven’t been built up very well and it feels rather dis-ingenious because the entire film has been a comedy up until that point. There are a few scenes that are like this. I also don’t think Snowball is that effective as a villain, he doesn’t really do much in the actual film and by the end he is kind of cast aside as the villain. He is an entertaining villain and we didn’t need a maniacal villain for this role so a comedic villain makes more sense, however, it doesn’t change the fact that he doesn’t really feel necessary except to break out Max and Duke, he does get some funny lines every so often though.
This film is also really short, it’s barely 1hr 30mins and even then it feels shorter. There is a lot to be said about the film’s plot, however, I just feel it’s serviceable and funny. It’s entertaining and I did enjoy myself watching it, but I wouldn’t rush back to re visit, though the funny moments can be incredibly funny, there were a lot of laughs in my cinema and honestly I laughed a lot more at this than some of the genuine comedies that have come out this year.
Acting wise, it’s a bit more difficult to talk about since many of the actors play multiple roles so finding the information on IMDB was a bit difficult for me to figure out who was playing who. I know that Steve Coogan provided a couple of voices and he was virtually unrecognisable, which means he must have been giving off a good performance. Jenny Slate is very good as Gidget she had a lot of very funny lines to work with and she delivered them very well. Ellie Kemper isn’t in it much as the owner Katie, but she seems nice enough if a bit one dimensional. Lake Bell is hilarious as Chloe the cat being given some of the best material to work with. Also speaking of great performances, Albert Brooks really delivered a brilliant performance as Tiberius the hawk. I kind of liked Eric Stonestreet as Duke, he was pretty fun and I am really a big Louis C.K. fan especially after his amazingly funny speech at the Oscars earlier this year, however I think he should have been given more room to show off his comedic talent, considering most of the time he is playing a straight role in this film. Kevin Hart is the one who sticks out the most in the cast because he has been everywhere in recent memory, so as a result has a very recognisable voice, but in this film he is legitimately funny, I wouldn’t say he is the funniest member of the cast but I will admit it is a bit distracting hearing Kevin Hart’s voice coming out of a small rabbit, but it kind of works. He is certainly funnier here than in some of his live action films, though I do think the process of casting him was essentially saying ‘let’s get Kevin Hart on the microphone, he is bound to entertain someone’. Most of the cast do several voices and some additional voices, in fact there is some genuine talent here, like, Dana Carvey, Tara Strong and Jim Cummings, who I really recommend looking up if you enjoyed the cartoons of the 90s like me, because I guarantee he is in a ton of films and TV shows that you remember, a very talented man. One of the things that make this film work is the solid cast and they all can give some very, very funny lines, it’s not an amazing cast to remember like the Panda films but they are very serviceable.
The animation is pretty standard for Illumination Pictures, in fact it looks like it could easily take place in the same world as Despicable Me films, the animation isn’t much different here. It’s very well done 3D animation and despite the fact I have been praising the hell out of hand drawn animation when I have been reviewing films like, The Tales of Princess Kaguya and When Marnie Was There, I still think there is a place for 3D animation and Illumination Pictures is doing a good job. It’s definitely not Pixar standard, but it’s doing good. The character designs are all pretty good. I liked Chloe’s character design, Gidget is pretty cool and don’t I think Max is as loveable and adorable as the marketing campaigners are making him out to be, but he is an enjoyable character and a cool design and the design animation works pretty well and allows the characters to move fluidly and perform the physical comedy and add towards the well written comedy that has been written for them.
There is a 3D version of the film available, however I saw it in 2D due to time constraints, making it unable for me to see the 3D version on the day I wanted to view the film. It does seem like this film wants you to see the 3D version, there are several effects and shots throughout the film that look like they were made for the 3D version, it seems much more overt here than it did in any other Illumination Pictures previous films like the Despicable Me films or the Minions movie. I did see The Minions in 3D and I thought the 3D was a bit of a gimmick that wasn’t necessary there. But this time I would actually say the 3D is not necessary at the film is perfectly watchable in the 2D, but I think there are a lot of effects for the 3D that might make the glasses worthwhile, though I am aware they are expensive for a large family, so don’t worry, you won’t be disappointed in the 2D version.
The Secret Life of Pets is not a great film, it’s a good film, but it’s very funny, very serviceable, the characters are enjoyable, the writing is pretty good and the animation is nice. It just doesn’t quite do much else. Kids will get a laugh out of it and their parents will enjoy it too, I enjoyed it, I found it very funny, it just didn’t rise to any high levels for me. I probably won’t be repeating it any time soon, but I wouldn’t object to seeing it again at say Christmas Time if it’s on the TV. If you can afford it, go to the 3D screening because I think the animation would suit that. Out of the 2016 releases, I preferred Zootopia and Kung Fu Panda 3 (which I already reviewed) to this film. If you want a good day out with your kids, then take them to see this, it’s fun and they will enjoy it.
I have seen 5 other films this week, and I can honestly say that this is one of the worst professional weeks of my career, and I am not saying that lightly. I saw 4 at the cinema and 1 DVD, which was out in February, but I failed to see then. The DVD being the remake of Point Break. I can simply sum this one up in two words POINTLESS BREAK!! It was an awful film, there is no plot to this film. It is simply get from one extreme sports scene to another extreme sports scene with the thinnest veil of semblance of what is going on around it. It was boring to watch, the stunt work was good, but that doesn’t make a film.
As for the cinema experience, I saw, The Conjuring 2, Mothers Day, The Boss and Gods of Egypt. Starting with The Conjuring 2, I actually thought this was a fairly decent horror film, though it’s not a classic, like The Witch or It Follows. The major reason being that whereas the first film felt like it was using a lot of the horror tropes to it’s advantage, this film feels like it’s using them as a crutch to cover up the cracks in the script, which I was really beginning to notice. The overall performances are pretty good and it’s a decent made horror film, but I really wish the Conjuring films would not market themselves as based on a true story and I hated the treatment of skeptics in the film and I don’t like the fact that these films are perpetuating the idea of exorcisms being true, a lot of people are not seeking medical help because they believe in exorcisms. I’m sorry people, but there are no such things as ghosts and it’s important to remember that with the Enfield case that a lot of people at the time believed it to be a hoax and having listened to a lot of the tape recordings and photos of the time which seem fake I happen to subscribe to the opinion that it is a complete hoax.
Mother’s Day is directed by Pretty Woman director, Gary Marshall, who you might remember creating other films that make you want to gouge your eyes out, like, The Princess Diaries, Valentines Day and the awful New Years Eve. This is a film not to be confused with the Troma film or the horror remake made by Brett Ratner, this is a romantic comedy that pains me to know that it exists. I firmly believe this is going to end up on my worst films of 2016 list, it was that awful. The film has no laughs in it, except for the blooper reel at the end, yes, that’s a good sign, the blooper reel was funnier than the film!!! It was written awfully, conflicts are bought up and then resolved with absolutely no effort whatsoever. The performances are terrible. The cast is completely slumming it and parts that are written so awful, you wouldn’t believe and the plot was agonising. This was an awful film to watch and I think that people will say, you are not the target demographic for it but frankly I think Women should feel insulted that studio executives think this is good enough for them. Women deserve better films marketed for them and I cannot believe this came out on the same day that When Marnie Was There did, and made more money that week. I hated this movie and if I ever see Jack Whitehall in the street, I am going to make him apologise for it!!! Avoid at all costs!
The Boss on the other hand is another comedy starring Melissa McCarthy and is from the same team that brought you Tammy, however, this one is not as bad as that film, but again it really doesn’t raise any laughs whatsoever, except a slightly awkward performance from Peter Dinkcavage who really should know better than to be in this sort of a film. It’s not very funny, it’s basically another Melissa McCarthy comedy, but not one of the good ones like Spy or The Heat or Bridesmaids, and thankfully I just didn’t care about this film, it was just boring, drab, the jokes weren’t funny, in fact I found a couple of them hugely offensive and I just wanted to be done with it. Avoid this one too.
Gods of Egypt, wow, just wow, this was awful on every conceivable level, it gets nothing right. The film cost 140 million dollars and it clearly isn’t showing the effects, which are crap and I am certain for that reason alone it was made with bad money. It was an awful inconsistent plot with a horrible script. The actors give horrid performances and are terribly mis cast and there are a ton of white actors playing Egyptians, aside from that everyone puts on a terrible British accent. The effects are inconsistent from scene to scene, the action is terrible. I hated this film. This is a damming indictment of where Blockbusters are going and the fact that the director of this film, who also directed I Robot, had the nerve to have a go at critics, calling them vultures, for daring to negatively review this film is rich because frankly this film deserves every negative backlash it can get. It is an awful piece of work and Mark Kermode said it best, you have to remember, vultures don’t eat living breathing things, they eat dead rotten things, so yes, for that reason alone, I would be glad to join the vultures on that one. It’s just awful, this is a bomb in every sense of the word and you can tell as people are watching it that people are going to lose their jobs over this and this will probably be joining Mother’s Day on my worst film list.
“So, what are your thoughts on The Secret Life of Pets, or any of the other films I saw?”
Well I think I should probably do a live action film next, especially considering that after the next film I am reviewing another animated film. Join me on 7 July where I will be reviewing Roland Emericks, Independence Day Resurgence, a film 20 years in the making and no one knows why they wanted it.
Thanks for reading my review I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.
My next review is out earlier is because I will be going on Holiday in July so we will be on a 2 week break after that.
Thank goodness for Secret Life of Pets, because after those other awful films, this was so welcoming,
Calvin – Nerd ConsultantShare This Post: