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The Secret Life of Pets - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
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The Secret Life of Pets
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Directing: B-
Acting: B
Writing: B-
Cinematography: B-
Editing: B-
Animation: B+



The Secret Life of Pets had a clever, savvy and effective marketing campaign. It was better than the movie itself, honestly. It also teased out many of the greatest moments from the movie before it was released, as is frustratingly often the case. None of those teaser spots spoiled the story, so perhaps they were proud of themselves for that. Too bad the story itself isn't nearly as interesting as the concept they were resenting. That concept, by the way, is a now well-worn "Toy Story-esque": New York City's pets come to life in their own universe as soon as humans are not around. Even stealing this concept is not an original idea: The Lego Movie stole it first. I guess the difference now is that Toy Story and The Lego Movie were both about toys come to life, and now we're moving to animals, which are living creatures to begin with. But they still have their own secret world.

This movie doesn't spent much time examining that concept, though. It's really just a movie about a couple of dogs -- a terrier named Max (voiced by Louis C.K.) and a giant fluffy stray named Duke (Eric Stonestreet) -- trying to find their way back home after getting lost in the city. And they get mixed up with a massively overdone "underworld" of self-proclaimed "flushed pets" led by a badass bunny named Snowball and voiced by Kevin Hart. This underworld has a disproportionately large number of snakes and alligators. There's a lot of scenes of swimming and nearly drowning in sewer water but no mention of what's actually in that water.

Mind you, I am fully aware that I am speaking here from the perspective of a cynical adult. If you have kids and are thinking of taking them to see this movie, there is no question your kids will enjoy it. The Secret Life of Pets relies far too much on overly busy action sequences and almost not at all on depth of story, but that's clearly the point. Your kids will not get bored at this movie. They'll likely think it's great. You might even enjoy it yourself, at least until the kids inevitably force you to sit through it countless more times several months from now. It's hard to imagine many children who won't love this movie, actually.

But, we also live in a time when the bar has been set far higher than this movie reaches -- or even aspires to. There's a disappointing lack of sophistication, a lot of missed opportunity, obscured by well-executed animation, easily the best thing about this movie. Pixar, this is not. But neither is it even as clever as, say, Zootopia (which was done by Walt Disney Animation Studios but not Pixar). It's more on par with Despicable Me, which was similarly all-right-but-not-great, but beloved by kids, spawned a Minions empire, and resulted in the Minions short that precedes this movie. And the short is cute but utterly forgettable, which The Secret Life of Pets also is, really.

Louis C.K. is a great choice, at least, to voice Max. As is Kevin Hart as the bunny, and Jenny Slate as Gidget, the neighbor dog in love with Max who spearheads the rescue effort. There's something missing in Duke, though, a lack of distinction. Eric Stonestreet is serviceable but unmemorable as his voice, and as a large stray dog, he's rendered just as this giant brown mop of an animal. He's one of the few dogs in the movie that really looks nothing like any dogs I've ever seen in real life. He barely looks like an actual dog. He really looks more like one of the tribbles from Star Trek, just rendered gigantic. I found it distracting.

But, okay, don't get me wrong: I did get plenty of laughs out of this movie. It has a good amount of gags that work. It just lacks the warmth and emotional effectiveness that could have made it great. It also has way too many scenes with way too much going on at once, a cacophany of action and camera twists and slapstick. How often the script relies on this could be called lazy writing. Others might make a convincing case that it barely stops just short of that.

This is obviously a movie for kids, though, and young children aren't going to give a shit about any of that stuff. Rest assured this movie will be an effective baby sitter for you one day.

Louis C.K., Kevin Hart and Eric Stonestreet reveal THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS.


Overall: B-
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Comments
Heather McCrillis From: Heather McCrillis Date: July 11th, 2016 03:32 am (UTC) (Link)
My stumbling block is why anyone would leave a dog alone at home. I've never owned a cat or other pet so I don't know how well they do by themselves for a full working day.
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