The Secret Life Of Pets
It sort of says a lot about a film when you found yourself enjoying the five minute short that was on before it a lot more than you did the actual film. For what it’s worth, the Minions’ “Moar Money” is a great little exercise for those characters, who, as I have previously mentioned, work far better in short doses than they do in longer productions. Anyway.
Terrier Max (Louis C.K.) lives a lazy and contented New York City life with his loving owner, until newer, bigger dog Duke (Eric Stonestreet) moves in. When the rivalry between the two results in both becoming lost in the city, Max’s pet friends Gidget (Jenny Slate), Chloe (Lake Bell), Mel (Bobby Moynihan) and Buddy (Hannibal Buress) set out to find him, aided by hawk Tiberius (Albert Brooks) and opposed by owner hating bunny Snowball (Kevin Hart).
What is there to really say about a film like this? Much like last year’s Minions, it’s a formulaic and largely uneventful entry in the Illumination canon. Oh yeah, this is going to be a short one.
Yes, like all efforts of this type there are a few moments here and there when the film is capable of eking a few laughs out of the adult audience, mostly when it takes very brief dark turns. Everything else is more about taking behaviour of pets, exaggerating that behaviour for bland comic effect, slapping a contemporary song on it and hoping the comedic voice actors sell it well enough.
And I think I’m just getting kind of bored of that. Give me Pixar’s effortless looking blend of the dark and the childlike. Give me Disney’s deep themes and potent social commentary. Give me Dreamworks’ inventiveness and colour (if they ever have the cash to make another animated film). But this, oh this. It’s just the bare minimum of effort. It’s a bunch of animators who like dogs and cats and thought they should make a movie about them, slapped some obvious jokes onto it and thought plot would follow.
Plot, of a kind, did follow. The only problem is that it’s the plot of Toy Story, just with pets subbing in. Character A seems to have it all with a great owner and lots of varied friends to have little adventures with – one of them is even a slinky dog, and there’s a cute love interest – and then along comes the new, different rival. They argue, they get lost, they have to find their way home while dealing with dark versions of their own selves, while the ancillary characters also try to help out. And the whole scene unfolds, with a tedious inevitability.
Part of the reason that The Secret Life… really struggles is the quality of the voice acting, which desperately needs to be of a high level to elevate the material, but just isn’t here. Louis C.K is shockingly off, reading his lines as if he’s skimming through a first draft, with Eric Stonestreet not doing much better. The assortment of comedians and character actors voicing the other roles do a little bit better, with Brooks (of course, its Hank frigging Scorpio we’re talking about) and Hart the real stand-outs. I’ve said before that celebrity voice acting often tends to backfire, since it’s such a different medium to what they are used to, but those from a stand-up background generally tend to do better. So why does Louis C.K. sound so limp and uninterested here?
The animation is fine, for what it is. Lots of spectacular looks at the NYC night time vista, lots of varied animals, and I wouldn’t say that anything looks particularly shoddy. But nothing looks particularly special either. The trailers on beforehand for the likes of The BFG and Finding Dory filled me with more wonder and anticipation. As I’ve said before, the CGI animation genre is stumbling big time when it comes to this part of the process, with too many offerings failing to make the most of what computer imagery can accomplish. Compared to the somewhat similar Zootopia, The Secret Life… is struggling to make the best of the premise from a visual standpoint.
I don’t want to seem too harsh towards the film. Like I said, I laughed at parts, when the jokes were crafted with a modicum of care. But too much of this is slipshod and unimpressive, the kind of “least effort possible” production that is dragging the CGI animation genre into mediocrity as fast as Pixar try to drag it the other way. And it’s this larger reality that The Secret Life… represents that makes me dislike it. Not recommended.
(All images are copyright of Universal Pictures).