Movie Review: The Secret Life of Pets | Giant Fire Breathing Robot

Movie Review: The Secret Life of Pets


Image via Screen Rant

With a name like The Secret Life of Pets, you might expect a story that…I dunno…tells about the secret life of some pets. What I found instead was a marginally funny, very cute animated picture that strives no further than it needs to tell the laziest jokes possible while squandering a golden opportunity to tell a different kind of family adventure story.

Max (Louis CK) is a dog who lives a perfectly happy life with his owner Katie (criminally underused Ellie Kemper) until one day Katie brings home a dog from the pound. This new dog, Duke (Eric Stonestreet), begins to encroach on Max’s life causing the two to quarrel. Their bickering escalates causing the duo to become lost in NYC without collars. Along the way they run afoul of a group of animal liberation sewer animals while Max’s friends from home search for the lost pooches.

If the plot sounds familiar, it should. It’s painfully similar to a number of other family films. Pets does little except riff on other—more successful—family fare. You’d be forgiven if you confused the plot of Pets with that of Toy Story or even Homeward Bound (or Incredible Journey). What was sold on the idea of seeing the hijinks that your pets get up to when humans aren’t around (which I guess is somewhat similar to Toy Story already) is instead a mad cap adventure romp with some homicidal sewer animals chasing our leads. And to make story matters worse, once Duke and Max get lost nary a word is uttered about their personal issues until the third act when everything gets resolved with a simple conversation.

It doesn’t help that Louis CK sounds completely uninterested in this role. Also, Louis CK? Really? Was this choice made in an attempt to appeal to older viewers? Maybe, but it doesn’t service this film in any way other than a bullet point on the poster. CK doesn’t have a super distinct voice, and he sounds like he didn’t give a shit about what was happening throughout the proceedings.

Which is fair, I guess, since I could barely give a shit about what was happening myself.

I hate harping on what a film COULD have been, but with Pets, it’s almost too easy. Not every family film needs to be a goofy action adventure. Pets could have taken place around the apartment complex, and still tackled the story about Max and Duke becoming friends. It could have been sharper with its take on animal behavior instead of taking the low road of poop jokes. Instead, Pets has like three different sequences that mirror that dreadful finale from Finding Dory—it doesn’t get better here.

The animal behaviors are pretty well done and worth a good couple of laughs. If you own a dog you’ll probably get a chuckle or two out of some of the basic characteristics of the dogs in Pets. But I’ll be painfully candid, as a Pug owner, the filmmakers were about sixty percent of the way to really nailing the animal behaviors…if they didn’t fall back on the “Pug is stupid” canard. Yeah, Pugs look dopey, but brother let me tell you, those dogs aren’t stupid. But this isn’t a real issue, the dogs and cats act in cartoon-ish parodies of the ways you expect them to act.

The highlight of the film for me was Jenny Slate as Gidget, a hyper Pomeranian with unrequited love for Max. Slate is hilarious as Gidget (weirdly enough, I saw Zootopia a day earlier and Slate voices a sheep in that flick) and her adventures are far more interesting than those of Duke and Max. Plus, she gets to pal around with Hannibal Buress’s wiener dog and Albert Brooks’s Tiberious the falcon (who is great in every scene).

While The Secret Life of Pets looks brilliant, and has some bits that will make you laugh, it’s a slight and disappointing retread of more successful family fare. There are more than enough decent family movies out that best Secret Life of Pets. While I didn’t love Finding Dory, it’s the clear winner in the talking animal summer movie war. Small children and less demanding viewers will find enough to like in the animal references, all others stay away.

There is 1 comment.

  1. Romola Garai said on September 4, 2016 at 7:02 am

    Thanks for review. Trailer is definitely very promising and I don’t think the movie quite lived up to it. I think it’s still worth a rental though, but yeah not as good as Zootopia or most of Pixar’s movies.

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