"The Secret Life of Pets" Review
Pixar’s breakthrough concept 21 years ago: What do toys do all day while their owners go to school or work? The latest feature from Illumination Entertainment, the creators of “Despicable Me”, poses the similar question: What do pets do all day while their owners are away from home?
The answer is revealed early on in “The Secret Life of Pets”, through a three-minute montage that’s been shown to us in the previews for a year. That set-up produces the funniest results in the film, because what follows it, sadly, is an extremely traditional, unimaginative story.
Max the Jack Russell Terrier (voiced by comedian Louis C.K.) has been best buddies with his owner Katie since he was rescued as a pup. But when Katie brings home another dog - the Newfoundland Duke (“Modern Family”’s Eric Stonestreet), their relationship gets-off to a rocky start.
During an outdoor escapade, Max and Duke are captured by NYC Animal Control, and so their neighborhood pet friends, including several other dogs, a cat, a parakeet, a guinea pig and a hawk that sounds an awful lot like Marlin the Clownfish (oh yeah - that’s because he’s also voiced by Albert Brooks), come-up with a plan to rescue them.
Max and Duke eventually meet-up with a group of sewer pets who were abandoned by their former owners, led by a bunny named Snowball. While Kevin Hart tries to infuse his unique style of comedic timing and humor (a family-friendly version, of course) into the white, fluffy character - it just doesn’t work as well as the filmmakers had hoped.
“The Secret Life of Pets” has a very scattered pace: the dialogue scenes are dry and humorless and the action and chase sequences are mindlessly manic (complete with supposedly funny but instead tacky placements such as a poster of Illumination’s upcoming animal music competition film “Sing” on the back of a bus). The screenplay is slapstick-heavy, with subplots that feel like fillers just to get the thin concept to a feature-length. A dream sequence involving hundreds of singing sausages is as bizarre as it sounds - though it’s the most memorable and creative element of the entire film. This is the most "unoriginal" original (not a sequel or based on a book) animated film in recent memory.
There is a new Minions short that precedes “Pets”, titled “Mower Minions”. It provides more laughs - in four minutes - than in the entire 90-minute movie that follows.