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Review: 'The Secret Life of Pets', animated film

Your rating: None Average: 3.9 (8 votes)

A group of pets stare at a cityscape. 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.

A small dog cringes at the arrival of a much larger dog. 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.

Gidget's rescue team. 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.

A very angry white bunny rabbit. 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!

Some of the animals in the Flushed Pets gang stare in surprise.

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This is one of two reviews of this film that were submitted earlier in 2016. For the other one, check out Raien's review!

Comments

Your rating: None Average: 5 (1 vote)

The same 'furry casting against type' trope -- cute l'il bunny who's really a villain -- as 'Hoodwinked', I see.

Your rating: None Average: 4 (1 vote)

Not exactly. Boingo in "Hoodwinked!" is a genuine villain; a criminal mastermind masquerading as a good guy. Snowball is a psychotic animal revolutionary; a megalomaniac who really believes that he's leading the other animals to their salvation.

Fred Patten

Your rating: None Average: 3 (1 vote)

I saw this and was tempted to post my own review but the film left me with such an empty nothingness that I couldn't form cohesive sentences. Glad someone finally reviewed it though, even if it's not as harsh as I would've been. I really did dislike this film. X3

I'm a different furry with different opinions.

Proud Staffer of VancouFur 2017~

Your rating: None

Well, it was lots better than Warner Animation Group's "Storks". That really stunk!

Fred Patten

Your rating: None

Haven't seen it, probably will wait till it's out to see it. From the marketing I did like how they didn't push the celebrity voices as much as some other movies but the reviews have been lukewarm. Guess I'll find out eventually. :P

I'm a different furry with different opinions.

Proud Staffer of VancouFur 2017~

Your rating: None

Storks is... so-so. If you go in assuming there'll be a coherent plot, you'll be disappointed. The film doesn't take itself seriously, and this is deliberate, but as a result, sometimes what the characters are doing at any given point doesn't make sense.

Also, the main stork character and the human character have this back-and-forth banter/arguing that may or may not work for you. Overall the film seems to be going for a Minions-style thing: everything on the screen is a series of really fast-paced, quick jokes, so it's difficult for your attention span to wander. (The Secret Life of Pets did this too.)

The thing is, when a film goes for this style, all of those quick jokes need to be good! And to be honest, while some of them are ok, a lot of them felt kind of formula. They didn't quite have the writing chops to pull it off... it felt more like "Let's throw stuff randomly and see what sticks". So I wouldn't say it's a bad film, it's more of an 'enh' with occasional little moments. For me personally, I was annoyed they gave the birds teeth, which really bugs me.

For a good example of fast-paced comedy with strong writing to back it up, one of my favorites has always been an episode of The Simpsonse, "Marge vs. the Monorail" (s04e12).

Your rating: None Average: 5 (1 vote)

I think the film had really hit-or-miss character design. Max, Chloe, Buddy, and Duke are cute, Gidget is too, but Snowball and the guinea pig look really ugly. At least they fit in with the rest of the designs though; Tiberius looks like he belongs in a different movie to me, like a Muppets movie.

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