As someone whose male ovaries are bursting at the thought of having pets as soon as I have my own house, I had high hopes for The Secret Life of pets.
I think I was about 11 when I first saw the trailer for this film – at least that’s how it seemed because it has been a long time coming to cinemas – and instantly loved it. The theme is rather unsurprisingly like Toy Story but with pets and emits an arty vibe of New York in the 90’s almost like this was Woody Allen’s foray into animation.
The trailer is actually the start of the film and it’s almost shot for shot. to me this was one of the best parts of the film as a host of really clever and astute pet behavioural observations are fleshed out into the main characters.
Max (Louis C.K.) is your every day loyal dog who wants the attention of his owner, Mel (Bobby Moynihan) is an incredibly stupid, slightly schizo, guardian of all he surveys whilst Gidget (Jenny Slate) is content with her luxury life and Chloe (Lake Bell) as one of the only cats holds a cynical contempt for everyone else around her. I like Chloe!
In fact the characters are so good that I would happily have just watched an hour of these pets just mingling and not much more.
Unfortunately that’s not what the film is about. Max’s owner brings home another dog called Duke (Eric Stonestreet) who is unquestionably the least focus of the pets. He is a bit clumsy, a big mangey, a bit overweight, a bit malicious a bit like Donald Trump only a thousand times more tolerable.
As Duke an Max vie for their owner’s affection it leads them to be captured by pest control. After being broken out by a cute but homicidal bunny rabbit named Snowball (Kevin Hart) they are forced into a literal underground rebellion of lost and unwanted pets from which they have to escape and get back home.
Now… this might sound as stupid as bringing home a jar of air as a holiday souvenir but The Secret Life of Pets has too much story and get’s in the way of any meaningful character development. With so many different personalities on screen it would have been easy to riff off of the clever writing to provide something deeper than a heist movie starring animals.
Because the focus is more on the crazy capers of the animals rather than their personalities the poignancy of Duke’s story line is all but lost.
Still; it’s all good fun. the writing and characters are brilliant. Smart observations of pet behaviour help it from being bereft of entertainment for older generation whilst the antics will undoubtedly keep younger audiences entertained. I do wonder though if – like sausage dogs – The Secret Life of pets would look better if it was a bit shorter.
The Good, The Bad and The Outcome:
+ Excellent Start
+ Great characterisation
+ Overall it’s good fun
– Possibly better as an animated short
– Duke’s story