Hot Take: I can see the pitch now. “What if we took Pixar’s Toy Story but replaced toys with pets?” Uninspired, safe and very little for anyone over the age of 14 especially if you don’t own a pet.
If The Secret Life of Pets were a term paper, it would be one of those mid-semester ones written haphazardly with the focus on getting by with at least a C because you want to go out instead of putting in the extra effort to score an A. It almost might get you expelled for plagiarism. The movie will be a hit with kids as there’s plenty to enjoy for younger audiences. They won’t care that it’s a complete rip-off of Toy Story. For adults with pets, it’ll probably have enough to remind you of dear ol’ Tippy that they’ll forgive the lack of a substantial plot or any real emotional tugs. For everyone else, The Secret Life of Pets is likely to leave you feeling like something was missing.
Leaving out the kids who will adore this movie, The Secret Life of Pets will likely divide audiences between pet owners and non-pet owners. Pet owners live in a fantasy world where their pets are smart, devotional, get along well with other pets and live every day for the affection of their master. All those elements are ever present in the movie. For a non-pet owner such as myself, let me let you in on a little secret: We don’t feel that way. When you’re walking your dog and his attention is diverted from looking for a place to urinate by my presence, I never think, “There’s a 100% chance this dog will not attack me” while the owner instantly says, “Oh! Don’t worry! He wouldn’t hurt a fly!” There’s a chasm in our approach to domesticated animals as us non-pet owners don’t really differentiate wild animals from the domesticated ones as vastly as you pet owners do.
For all audiences, the voice work of the main characters done by Louis CK and Eric Stonestreet is solid. The movie improves as Kevin Hart’s maniacal bunny who used to be a magician’s assistant until he was discarded appears on the scene. The supporting voices of Albert Brooks, Steve Coogan and Dana Carvey also add to the enjoyment of the kid’s flick.
The film itself feels a little too generic to be above average. If The Secret Life of Pets were a pop song, Toy Story could sue for royalties as Pets samples heavily from the Toy Story plot. The difference between the two is the tenderness of Toy Story which sells the connection between an inanimate toy and it’s owner better than The Secret Life of Pets sells the connection between a living pet and it’s owner. Instead the film focuses more on the relationships pets have with each other and tries to create a ridiculous bond between animals who see each other through windows. I guess it helps a pet owner to think their dog or cat has friends when they are left trapped in the home while they go off to work or out on the town. Unfortunately, while replacing heartfelt moments and endearing characters with rip-roaring animated action and one-liners might be entertaining, it also creates a highly disposable experience.
“Spoiler Free” Pros
- Great Voices
All of the voices fit their characters. While not the stars of the show, Bobby Moynihan and Hannibal Buress have voices perfect for voiceover work and voice two of the funnier characters — Mel, a dopey pug who fancies himself a lady killer and Buddy, a sarcastic dachshund.
- Well Groomed
If the worst thing you can say about a movie is that it delivers on pleasing kids and pet owners when the movie is called The Secret Life of Pets, it’ll probably mean we’ll be seeing this franchise for some time.
“Spoiler Free” Cons
- It’s All About That Brand
From the opening short featuring their cash cows, the Minions, Illumination’s latest effort spends an inordinate amount of time insuring this film will generate revenue outside of the box office. Sorry, mom and dad but junior is going to want every action figure and stuffed creature from The Secret Life of Pets. (This is coming from a guy with a stuffed Minion and two Minion Funko figures.)
- Staying In the Shallow End
Unlike Zootopia earlier this year, The Secret Life of Pets never takes on any deeper meaning than pets love their owners and are very protective of that relationship and the city streets are no place for a domesticated animal.