A Dog’s Story Highlights ‘The Secret Life Of Pets’ (Movie Review)

secret life of pets thumbIt seems like a movie like this requires a reviewer to be upfront about their pet situation. I take care of a tarantula and teaching him to fetch has been tough. With that out of the way, The Secret Life of Pets is certainly a film that will tap into many things pet owners can somewhat relate to in the film’s opening moments. The rest of the movie plays like a mix of Toy Story and madcap adventures seen in old Chuck Jones cartoons. This kind of lunacy has been the general tone of films from of Illumination Entertainment and while this one is humorous, I wish there were better attempts at being clever.


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The Secret Life of Pets comes from the writers and director of the Despicable Me films. They’ve gone from something fairly ambitious and unique (my problems with them aside) to a child-friendly comedy with a lot less on its mind. The story revolves around the pairing of a terrier named Max (Louis C.K.) and a Newfoundland named Duke (Eric Stonestreet). Max had been previously enjoying life with his owner Katie (Ellie Kemper), only to have his space invaded by Duke, the new addition to this little family. The two do not get along, but end up finding themselves lost in New York City, attempting to get back home before animal control takes them away.

It’s a very basic setup that is thin enough to support the addition of two major subplots involving Kevin Hart’s rabbit character, who leads a band of animals in hopes of leading a revolution against humans.  There’s also Jenny Slate as Gidget, a Pomeranian that groups Max’s friends together in an attempt to find him. There’s fun to be had from these side stories, especially since they also involve the comedic talents of Steve Coogan, Dana Carvey, Lake Bell, Bobby Moynihan, Hannibal Buress and Albert Brooks (not content with his recent Finding Dory checks).

I am in a strange situation with this film as I easily admire what was attempted with the Despicable Me films more (despite how much I loathe the minions). While I get hung up on the narrative issues, there is a unique world those films play in and amusing concepts full of imagination. The Secret Life of Pets, however, is quick-paced and packed with jokes and visual gags. Basically, this film aims lower, but finds itself succeeding because of it. This is almost irritating, but it’s hard to avoid the fact that some of those jokes worked really well for me.

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Part of the joy comes from how charming C.K. is as Max. His attitude makes plenty of sense for his domesticated dog persona. As a counter, Hart is clearly having a blast voicing Snowball, the evil rabbit with a big mouth. His intentions are ridiculous, but the film gets plenty of miles out of Hart’s erratic performance. Hearing the other animals is enjoyable enough as well, depending on what you favor (I’m a big Buress fan myself and Brooks is always welcome).

While the trailers mainly play up the film’s opening minutes involving the pets in their houses, there is a grand sense of scope in the form of NYC. What Illumination may lack in appealing character and animal designs (they seem more along the lines of “just enough” as opposed to “incredibly detailed”), it does make up for it in creating a world. From skyscrapers to the sewers, a lot of land is covered in the span of 90 minutes.

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It’s just a shame this film can’t quite deliver on its emotional moments. Illumination has yet to match Pixar or DreamWorks (on their better days) in terms of nailing their character beats in both humor and drama. Not that every animation studio needs to go that route, but it’s not as if The Secret Life of Pets doesn’t have a character with a sad backstory that is ultimately resolved. There’s also the matter of how much we’re supposed to expect from the capability of these animals and what it means to the humans around them. Not to reveal too much, but there is a level of destruction in this film that is more consciously taking place than I would have liked.

With all of that in mind, the film still manages to do enough right. There are some big laughs in this film and plenty of other solid comedic moments scattered throughout. The voice cast is generally great and plenty of pet-related gags work well. The final minutes involve a montage reminding pet-owners (and humans capable of empathy) just what it means to have a pet anyway; which is plenty to ensure we will have many sequels to come from a film that was guaranteed to succeed the second they put “pets” in the title. Here’s hoping the future manages to fine-tune the humor a bit more.

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Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Gamer, Comic Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

1 Response to “A Dog’s Story Highlights ‘The Secret Life Of Pets’ (Movie Review)”

  1. Romola Garai

    Thanks for review. I liked the look of it from the trailer, but a lot of those jokes are in the first ten minutes…it’s a shame, really. My fault for watching trailers! Actually the adventure stuff isn’t terrible, it’s just that it hits that note from about 15 minutes and stays on it to 1 hr 20 or so. But kids like it, and there are some good moments therein.