The animated movies have been really dominating the box office this summer, so, let’s review one of the latest additions to the genre – The Secret Life of Pets.
IMDb summary: The quiet life of a terrier named Max is upended when his owner takes in Duke, a stray whom Max instantly dislikes.
Recently, there has been quite a few animated pictures about talking animals – we just had Zootopia and the new animated musical SING also has animals as its characters. This concept has always been popular and it is definitely not going anywhere. While the idea to show how animals act when the humans are not around is cool and clever, it is not the most original. Another recent animation that kinda did the same thing was Bolt. So, since the TSLOP can count on originality, it is all about the execution.
Writing: story and ideas
The Secret Life of Pets’ script was written by Brian Lynch, Cinco Paul, and Ken Daurio. This trio has previously worked on other Illumination Entertainment projects like the Despicable Me films and Minions. I’m a fan of the main Despicable Me franchise but can’t really stand its spin-off. I feel like with TSLOP movie, the screenwriters mixed everything I loved about the first property with the things that annoyed me about the second brand.
- I liked how the animal characters had both animalistic and human-like features and manners. I also enjoyed how the various stereotypes were played up. Sometimes, human stereotypes were used on animals as a joke: for example, in the scene with the white Pomeranian and the telenovela. In other instances, these stereotypes were subverted and made for an even funnier moment: the poodle who likes rock music was a nice idea and the main antagonist of the film – the anarchist bunny – was also an unexpected and subversive addition to the picture.
- I loved the little relatable moments like the scene with the cat and the turkey. That tiny inside competition between the cats and the dogs was also a great real-world tie-in. The inclusion of concepts like the cat videos on YouTube and the vacuum cleaner to be used to get rid of the pets was neat as well.
- The idea to make the barking of dogs their language was obvious but still nice and super funny when showed visually on screen.
- The film didn’t have the most original narrative – it was a basic save and avenge storyline. It was still an enjoyable adventure to watch but the viewer might feel that he/she has seen it before numerous times.
- The picture really got dark at times and I don’t know if those ideas had a place in the film. The picture wasn’t really that sophisticated and it was definitely on a more simplistic side and aimed at the younger audiences, so I don’t think that it was a good idea to show the suffering animals like the tattooed pig or the magician’s rabbit and talk about killing the owners. Don’t get me wrong, it is important to talk about the first thing – that people are not always the nicest to the animals – but I don’t think that a mainstream kids’ movie was a place to do that, maybe if it had a more serious tone, I would have had a different opinion.
Directing: visuals and animation
TSLOP was directed by Chris Renaud and Yarrow Cheney. Renaud has previously directed the Despicable Me films and has created the voice of the Minions, who he voices in all of the movies that they appear. Cheeny has only directed a few shorts up until now but he has been a production designer on the Illumination Entertainment pictures. I really enjoyed the directing of the film for the most part. I really liked the montages at the beginning which set up the independent world of pets nicely and it was also a great idea to end the movie with corresponding montages – it tied everything together perfectly. The actual animation was also spectacular – the fur of the animals looked excellent and the NY skyline was also realized beautifully – it is so iconic and recognizable even in animated form. The actual character design of the animals was cool and cute too. TSLOP also had a good complimentary soundtrack, I liked the inclusion of the Welcome to New York song. The only sequence of the film that I disliked was that Sausage World – I felt that it was too childish even for a light children’s film and, moreover, those sausages reminded me of Minions too much.
The actors who voiced the animals did a good job. The stand-out for me was Kevin Hart (he voiced the rabbit) – I could instantly recognize his voice and really loved the way he delivered the lines and the one-liners. His character was definitely the funniest and I think that that was because of Hart’s involvement. I’m definitely starting to become a fan of him after this film and Central Intelligence. The great comedian Louis C.K. voiced the main character – a Jack Russell terrier, while Eric Stonestreet really fit the voice of his character – the large and furry mongrel. Steve Coogan was great as a Sphynx cat – the British accent was somehow appropriate. Lastly, Jenny Slate was a great choice to bring the Pomeranian to life. Slate has recently voiced another animal – a sheep – in Zootopia.
In short, The Secret Life of Pets was an okay film. It was as subversive or adult-friendly as Zootopia but it did make me laugh more than a couple of times and I’m sure that the kids would have a blast watching it.
Trailer: The Secret Life of Pets trailer