I’ve been spoiled recently because animated movies are starting to really blossom. When you look at movies like How to Train Your Dragon or Inside Out, you no longer have to qualify “It’s good… for an animated movie.” So the bar is high for films like The Secret Life of Pets. Can it meet those expectations?
What do your animals do when you leave for the day? That’s the basic premise. All the neighborhood cats and dogs meet up and go on adventures. Here, we have a dog named Max (Louis C.K.) who suddenly is confronted with a new dog in his home (voiced by Modern Family‘s Eric Stonestreet). While they fight for dominance, they accidentally get lost in New York and must find a way back home. They cross paths with a ragtag group of escaped pets (led by Kevin Hart’s Snowball the bunny), while their friends also go on an adventure to find and rescue them. These other household pets include the voices of Jenny Slate, Ellie Kemper, Hannibal Burress, Bobby Moynihan, and Dana Carvey.
The movie looks great for the most part. Great textures on all of the animals, great water effects, some great action sequences… Very polished look.
In terms of voiceover work, the only standouts were really Jenny Slate and Kevin Hart, although Kevin Hart continues to do the same shtick and that’s true here too. At least these two put in effort and their energy matched the energy of the movie.
I also found myself chuckling at a few parts but that was unfortunately rare. Kids were howling though, so your little ones may enjoy this movie much more than I did. As I mentioned in the intro, I have a high bar for animated movies now and this is very short of what I know these movies can accomplish.
What doesn’t work?
This movie is a bummer.
There are two categories of animated movies. There are the good ones. The Wall-Es and Wreck-It Ralphs and Kung Fu Pandas. And then there’s another category, with movies like Ice Age and Madagascar and Norm of the North. These second movies aren’t inherently worse, but they lack the depth and heart of the former. One movie appeals to everyone. We all left Inside Out feeling something. We don’t leave Madagascar feeling the same thing. This movie is on the lesser side.
I have a few big problems but most notably, this movie lacks heart. There was one moment, one flashback scene where I thought for a second that this movie was going to pull an Up. Unfortunately it didn’t capitalize. Every time it veered close to some sort of emotional payoff, it steered away. “Kids wouldn’t like that.” “It’s not funny.” “This is getting too serious.” The movie had a chance to actually matter and it instead tried to be as safe as possible, ending up with a very calm, safe, uneventful, and forgettable movie.
The premise is fine. The trailers were interesting but the actual movie is much more of a city-wide adventure with tons of crashes and explosions and car chases. I think there were three or four different times when animals were driving cars crazily through the city. I would’ve been fine with pretending that animals could talk, but somehow them driving everywhere became a little too alienating for me.
Before the movie there was a Minions short that was all chaos. Cool explosion effects and fart jokes and it was all loud and crazy and senseless. That short tells you everything you need to know about the movie you’re about to see, just like how the beautiful short Piper before Finding Dory set the tone for that movie.
Also, there is a scene in a sausage factory that is the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen.
This movie is for kids because they’ll laugh and howl at how crazy it is. “Look, that cat fell down 18 steps and landed in spaghetti!” You, as an adult, will find it grating. It makes zero sense, the humor is really only intended for children, and the movie has zero heart, choosing to focus on adventure over the moments that could have really mattered. Even in a league with other “kid” movies, this one is a few steps below.