Illumination’s latest family-friendly offering is all bark and no bite.
⭐ ⭐ ½
You know that movie about the group of loveable misfits who banter, bicker and go on adventures while their owners aren’t looking? The one where the main character is a loveable goof who becomes overcome with jealousy after a new recruit starts to hog the limelight? What was that called again? Oh yeah, Toy Story.
Following the towering success of their Despicable Me and Minions films, The Secret Life of Pets sees Illumination Entertainment assemble an all-star cast of talented comedians for a film all about what our furry friends get up to when we head out each day. Louis C.K. voices Max, the aforementioned loveable pup who grows increasingly envious of Duke (Eric Stonestreet), a stray who captures the heart of their owner Katie (Ellie Kemper). After getting lost in the Big Apple, Max and Duke must elude the city pound as well as a gang of deranged strays lead by Snowball (Kevin Hart), a psychotic bunny rabbit.
Let’s be honest, we all want to know what our pets do during the day. It’s an irresistibly clever and simplistic idea for a film that really doesn’t have to sell itself as anything bigger – or in this case, aspire to be anything greater. For the first 15 minutes, the film delivers exactly what it promises. A host of clever visual gags and PG-humour rattles through a whole troop of colourful characters, from Jenny Slate’s energetic fluffball Gidget to Bobby Moynihan’s bouncy bulldog Mel. Chloe (Lake Bell) spends her day gorging on chicken from the fridge whilst Buddy (Hannibal Buress) uses a cake mixer to massage his elongated dachshund spine.
However, this opening montage is just a repackaged version of the trailer; what follows is a much less interesting and predictable narrative about two pups getting chased through New York by animal control. Max and Duke run into some colourful characters, decide to put aside their differences and begin to bond with one another – you know the drill. This wouldn’t be such a huge issue if the film actually had the balls to hit you where it hurts.
There are no stakes in The Secret Life of Pets; no looming threat of anything. In a year where other animated studios have delivered much more mature movies by daring to tackle things like disability (Finding Dory), xenophobia (Zootopia) and grief (Kubo and the Two Strings), The Secret Life of Pets is disappointingly vanilla. The colours sure are bright and the soundtrack has a cool pop tune or two, but nothing lingers long in the memory because the film doesn’t resonate on an emotional level; directors Yarrow Cheney and Chris Renaud are too quick to skip over the story beats that could actually pack a punch and move onto the next wacky set piece where the fluffy bunny goes apeshit.
Make no mistake; your kids will probably love The Secret Life of Pets. It’s bright and filled with vivid colours and cute animals. But if you’re looking for something more substantial, look elsewhere. Ultimately, the film feels neutered by weak plotting and hasty pacing that doesn’t pay out when dealing with anything weighty.
The Secret Life of Pets is available in Australian cinemas from September 8
Image courtesy of Universal Pictures