Movie review: The Secret Life of Pets

Movie reviews

Good morning/day/evening!

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 LynchCinco 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.

The positives: 

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. The idea to make the barking of dogs their language was obvious but still nice and super funny when showed visually on screen.

The negatives:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

Voice Work

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.

Rate: 3.7/5

Trailer: The Secret Life of Pets trailer

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Movie review: Central Intelligence

Movie reviews

Good day!

The second (or third) buddy cop comedy of this summer has reached the theaters, so let’s review it!

IMDb summary: After he reconnects with an awkward pal from high school through Facebook, a mild-mannered accountant is lured into the world of international espionage.

Movie suggestions

The first buddy cop comedy that I had in mind is The Nice Guys, which is basically the retro version of Central Intelligence. Also, we could definitely count Zootopia as a crime comedy. Central Intelligence and Zootopia have a similar humor style – very contemporary, pop-culture based.

Minor Spoilers Ahead

Writing

Central Intelligence’s script was written by a trio of screenwriters Ike Barinholtz, David Stassen and the director Rawson Marshall Thurber. I’m not familiar with their previous writings projects but I did enjoy the story that they created for this film. I liked the overall message of being one’s own hero and being oneself, although, that last inspirational speech might have been a bit too much. Nevertheless, dealing with life after highs school and the scars that bullying leaves on one’s mind were good topics for the film since so many people, myself included, can relate to them. The crime aspects of the film – not knowing who the bad guys were and all the double crossings – also worked. The comedy was also fine – I enjoyed the pop culture references. The film 16 candles was mentioned a lot and the line ‘See You On The Other Side’ also received a few repeats. Although it did not originate in the Fast and Furious films, I took it as a reference to that franchise, especially the Fast Five film, in which Dwayne Johnson first appeared. Vin Diesel was also name-dropped a couple of times. The line ‘You’re like a snack-sized Denzel’ also made me chuckle.

Directing

Rawson Marshall Thurber, who directed We’re The Millers, did a good job directing Central Intelligence. The action was cool, although, he could have used a bit less of the shaky cam. The CGI to make the actors look younger also worked. The pacing could have been better – the movie was a bit slow to start – but wasn’t that bad to ruin the film. I also liked the fact that they included the bloopers before the credits, like the older comedies used to do – it seemed like all the actors had so much fun on set and that made me like the film even more.

Acting

  • Dwayne Johnson as Bob Stone/Robbie Weirdicht was a good lead. His character seemed to have a multiple personality disorder and was just a tiny bit obsessed with Hart’s character. Johnson first appeared on my radar because of his involvement in the Fast and Furious films, but since then, he has really built himself an exciting acting career. Last year’s San Andreas was a surprising hit and later this year he is voicing a major character in Moana. In 2017, Baywatch is coming out, which Dwayne has also produced.
  • Kevin Hart as Calvin Joyner was also amazing. I’m not really familiar with Hart’s work, I haven’t seen neither the Ride Along films, nor Think Like A Man films, nor last year’s Get Hard (I don’t like Will Ferrel that much), so I don’t have a strong opinion on him. I did, however, really enjoy his performance on Top Five as well as in this film, so I might  eventually check out those other movies I’ve mentioned too.

I really liked the contrast between Johnson and Hart. Their chemistry was also on-point.

  • The supporting cast consisted of Amy Ryan as Agent Pamela HarrisAaron Paul as Phil and Danielle Nicolet as Maggie Joyner. I was pleasantly surprised to see Paul appear in the film since I really like him as an actor. I have reviewed a bunch of his films: Need for Speed, A Long Way Down, Triple 9 and Eye in the Sky. Bridge of Spies’s Ryan was fine in her role and I also enjoyed the performance of Nicolet.
  • Melissa McCarthy had a small cameo in the film that came out of nowhere but somehow worked. I laughed out loud when she appeared alongside Johnson. While I have mixed feelings about her solo comedies, I definitely like her in small, cameo-sized quantities.

In short, while I don’t usually watch comedies at the cinema, I’m happy that I’ve made an exception for Central Intelligence – it was an entertaining and funny buddy film with great acting and nice message. Not a must see, but a definite recommendation.

Rate: 3.75/5

Trailer: Central Intelligence trailer

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