FlixChatter Review: The Secret Life of Pets (2016)

Pets_poster

The moment I saw the trailer for this months ago I was immediately sold. Anyone who’s ever owned a pet would likely be drawn to this as well, and given the popularity of cat (and dog) videos on social media, this is no doubt a winning concept for an animated movie. The movie started off well enough on the premise of pets shenanigans whilst the owner is away, seen from the life of the movie’s protagonist, a terrier dog named Max (Louis C.K.). The opening scene, set to Taylor Swift’s Welcome to New York, with Max propped on a bike as his owner Katie strolls through Central Park with the city’s metropolitan backdrop is fun and vibrant. Life seems perfect for Max, that is until Katie arrives one day with a huge, hairy dog from the pound. Max takes an instant dislike to Duke (Eric Stonestreet), and it’s easy to see why.

Pets_katie

At first the story seems to revolve around the households of Max as well as his NYC neighbors. There’s the obese gray cat Chloe (Lake Bell), bulldog Mel (Bobby Moynihan), dachshund Buddy (Hannibal Buress), parakeet Sweet Pea (Tara Strong) and a white Pomeranian Gidget (Jenny Slate) who has a crush on Max. I enjoy the intro to each of these fun characters, some of which has been revealed in the trailer. I still laughed when we see Chloe resisting temptation of eating all the food on the fridge and fail miserably, and when Buddy enjoying a delightful massage courtesy of an electric mixer. But the plot then takes us into more of a riotous adventure involving pets being taken in by Animal Control, and ends up being kind of a rescue and ‘great escape’ type of plot that is neither inventive or original. I feel like I’ve seen this type of plot before in other animal movies, most recently Shaun the Sheep.


The whole bit in the sewer with an anti-human gang Flushed Pets, led by a militant white bunny Snowball (the petite firecracker Kevin Hart) has some hilarious moments, but it feels too mean-spirited for a kids movie. Unlike the far superior talking-animal animated feature Zootopia, there’s not much emotional resonance nor depth in The Secret Life of Pets, which is a bummer as I think the concept has so much potential. The moment Duke finds out about what happens to his owner provides one of the very few emotional moments in the movie, but for the most part we get one slapstick gag after another. It also includes a rather silly musical number involving dancing sausages that seems rather pointless.

The movie is directed by Chris Renaud & Yarrow Chenney who have worked on previous Illumination animated movies in the past. I quite like the score too, which I realize from the credits is by Oscar winner Alexandre Desplat. The funniest bits to me are in the simpler moments. There’s one when Max is trying to channel his inner wolf instinct but then concludes that perhaps the ‘myth’ comes from a dog mistaking its parent saying ‘woof’ with ‘wolf.’ You have to watch it to get the full impact of the joke. I also find the aloof & sarcastic Chloe hilarious, she’s what you’d imagine a cat would be and the moment she gets her head in a tube is absolutely hysterical. I wish there were more moments like this, that is the simple shenanigans these pets get into in a normal day, instead of the grandiose escape-from-peril plan that is too busy for its own good. The simple day-to-day stuff is more of what I expect from a movie titled ‘the secret life of pets.’

Pets_snowball

That said, I think the fun personality of the pets, thanks to a talented ensemble of voice cast, makes this movie enjoyable despite the flaws. Louis C.K. is perfect as Max, a good ol’ loyal dog who’s self-deprecating and cynical. The standout for me is Lake Bell‘s Chloe, Albert Brooks‘ hawk Tiberius and of course Hart’s hysterically-psychotic white bunny. I find the massively popular comedian hilarious in real life, his high-pitched voice, ultra-confident persona and antics are a hoot. But I can see how he might irritate some people, as comedy is so subjective. Jenny Slate‘s raspy voice as Gidget is funny too, though her Pomeranian’s character transformation is just downright preposterous. I get it that we can’t complain about things being nonsensical about a cartoon of talking animals, but I feel that the plot could’ve been much more engaging. Comparing this to other works by Illumination Entertainment, this is more akin to Minions than Despicable Me in terms of substance. There are touches of Toy Story as well, though it obviously doesn’t hold a candle to the Pixar masterpiece trilogy.

If you’re on the fence though, I think this is still well worth a watch. I don’t think it’s worth the 3D price however and I think it’d be ok to just wait for rental. I saw one reviewer say this is more humor than heart and I guess that is perfectly adequate for a kids movie. As an adult though, I kind of expect more given what Pixar, Disney and even Dreamworks have delivered lately.

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What do you think of ‘The Secret Life of Pets’?

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35 thoughts on “FlixChatter Review: The Secret Life of Pets (2016)

  1. Nice review Ruth. I think I did like it a little more than you but we do share many of the same likes and dislikes. I too think the film takes a dive once it hits the sewers. Personally I found Hart to be really annoying and as erratic as the pacing during that middle segment. But I loved the beginning and I really liked following Max’s friends as they set out to find him. But some of that middle stuff…

    1. Hi Keith! Interesting that you like this more than Zootopia. Yeah, the scenes in the sewer isn’t as funny or interesting for me, though I don’t really mind Hart and he’s pretty much behaving as I’d expect. I guess you could say the movie is uneven, and overall I expected more from it given how fun the concept is. If they had stuck with more of the simple day-to-day pet shenanigans it might’ve been more fun.

    1. Hi Eddie! Yeah I think it’s perfectly fine to wait for rental. I think the trailer made it look a lot funnier than it is, though it’s still pretty fun.

          1. Yeah, Everybody Wants Some, Demolition, Sing Street and Love and Friendship all came out on the net before hitting our screens. ‘Miles Ahead’ didn’t play in my city at all, but when it was playing interstate there was already a torrent out. And that is just the last month or so!

            I feel like I whine about it too often but damn its frustrating! I’m sure this flick will be on the net by September =/ but it is an animation so I’d really like to see it on the big screen. Unfortunately though my state misses out on a lot that cities like Sydney and Melbourne get.

    1. Hi Matt, the voice cast is still pretty great. I just think the grandiose escape plot has been done over and over, it’s the simple shenanigans of these pets that I find the most hilarious.

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  3. From the trailer – which I thought was hilarious – I perhaps expected more from this. Still, it’s probably one that’s worth catching up with because it sounds like it’ll still entertain even if it doesn’t reach the heights of some of the animated masterpieces of the last few years.

    1. Hi Dan! Yeah the 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.

  4. You confirm a lot of what I’m hearing, that its really unoriginal and we’ve seen it all before. I guess the question is, does that matter for a kids movie? Kids wont know its being unoriginal, because they dont have the same film background we do. They will care about having funny characters they care about.
    Then again, should family movies have the bar set lower? When there are movies like Inside Out raising that bar, is the family argument an excuse anymore?

    1. Hello Ian! I think it started out well enough but it seems that most of the funniest bits are on the trailer. You raised some very interesting questions! I just might make a post of it and give you credit if you don’t mind. Well as an adult, I kind of expect that animated films should appeal to both adults and kids as most likely the parents would also have to sit and watch it. That’s why I love Pixar as they certainly set the bar high for their films, and Disney animation have now follow suit.

  5. Great review Ruth! I’ve been looking forward to this one for ages too, but when I found out it was more of an adventure movie and not just our pets waiting for us to get home, I got a little put off. I’ll still give it a watch, though!
    – Allie

    1. Hi Allie! Yeah I was quite disappointed when the movie started going towards that direction. It’s a missed opportunity really, as the day-to-day pets shenanigans at home are truly the funniest bits about this movie. Still worth a rent though, the voice cast are great!

  6. I loved the trailer, I was like, YES! Then it toooooooooook ages to come out, it’s like I saw the trailer two years prior, or at least it felt like it. THEN I saw a review that stated it was pretty much ToyStory remake with animals.. and now I’m like,.. I don’t really want to see it.

    1. Hi Getter, yeah it’s pretty much just another adventure movie w/ animals. It’s definitely inspired by Toy Story but never quite reached the depth and emotional resonance of that Pixar masterpiece.

        1. Still worth a rental though, there are some fun moments when the pets are doing silly stuff in their home. I wish they were be more of it!

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    1. Hello Georgina! Yeah it’s quite disappointing as the trailer showed sooo much promise. I think it has some fun moments but overall very forgettable.

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    1. Hi LisaMarie, welcome to FC! That’s cool that you were an animal control officer. I think Zootopia is a much stronger movie than this one, but it’s still a lot of fun.

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