Review: 'The Secret Life of Pets', animated film
The Secret Life of Pets [trailer] is Illumination Entertainment's latest CG animated film offering, released on July 8, 2016. It's an entertaining comedy that's been doing quite well at the box office. I went to a weekday early evening screening, and the theater was packed with about an equal mix of adults and kids. Everyone seemed to enjoy it!
The story starts in an apartment building in Manhattan. Max (voiced by Louis C.K.) is a terrier who adores his owner, a young woman named Katie. One day she brings home a second dog, a huge, shaggy brown Newfoundland named Duke. Max and Duke don't get along at all. Their conflict results in them getting lost in the city, avoiding animal control officers and a gang of abandoned pets led by an insane white rabbit named Snowball. Meanwhile, the other pets from the apartment building embark on a quest to find them, led by Gidget, a white pomeranian.
That's pretty much it - simple premise, simple story, nothing deep, and it's done well. There's a ton of momentum! The film is always going someplace, slowing down when it needs to, and the action and scenes are constantly evolving as the plot moves along. The humor is very fast-paced, so it doesn't let your attention span wander. It's very much like the studio's 2015 hit, Minions, in that respect. And not much toilet humor. Hooray!
My personal nit-picks are few. The main cast is made up of predominantly white American actors, and the film's two main antagonists, Snowball the rabbit and a street cat named Ozone, are voiced by a black actor and a British actor respectively. This happens a lot in films; the bad guys are somehow culturally different from the main characters. To me, this comes off as a xenophobia of "others". With the Black Lives Matter movement currently happening, having an antagonist (Kevin Hart) who stands out by sounding like a black gangsta... it just didn't feel right. On the positive side of diversity in casting, the good guys did have Hannibal Buress voicing the dachshund - but with so many animal side-characters, not many of them get a lot of individual screen time. Personally I was fond of Tiberius the red-tailed hawk.
In terms of female characters, Chloe the cat is a lot of fun, and Jenny Slate as Gidget the pomeranian was really strong. She kicks ass. So it's unfortunate that her entire motivation is based around desire for Max. Louis C.K. does a decent voice acting job, although I think a lot of the secondary characters outshone him in that respect. At the start of the film, both Max and Duke are rather nasty to each other, so it took me a while to warm to either of them as protagonists. Give them time!
Visually, there are a lot of scenes that have been obviously composed for 3D. I watched the film in 2D, and I found this a little distracting. On the plus side, the visuals are very bright with a lot of rich colors. The animators really put a lot of work into this, and had fun with it.
Nit-picks aside, I really liked this film! The characters are lots of fun, and as the story progresses you get to see quite a motley crew of different animals. Snowball is the leader of the Flushed Pets, a gang of resentful, abandoned animals of all sorts (including a crocodile). They use objects in the human environment in all sorts of silly ways, and there are shout-outs to a Nintendo game, the film Alien... heck, towards the end of the film things even start getting all Grand Theft Auto. Plus a few plugs for Minions, because hey, free advertizing.
So yep, I would definitely recommend watching this. It's a good bit entertainment with lots of unexpected little moments of silly comedy all over the place. Stay for the start of the credits! There's a little extra scene, after which you can leave. There's one extra line of dialogue at the very end, but it's completely skippable. Very upbeat, bouncy music during the credits.
Illumination Entertainment's next film is due for release in December 2016. Sing [trailer] is set in an all-animal universe, with a Koala who wants to save his struggling theater by staging a singing competition. The design is a lot more cartoony than Zootopia, with some species that don't get used a lot, like gorillas and porcupines. It's a good year for furry films!
This is one of two reviews of this film that were submitted earlier in 2016. For the other one, check out Raien's review!