The Secret Life Of Pets is the latest big animated cinematic adventure. Is it a winner for both kids and parents?
There are two types of animated films; those purely for kids and those that work on two levels (while upcoming films like Sausage Party are creating a third medium only seen on TV – the adult animated movie). The Shrek movies had plenty of jokes to keep the grownups entertained (in fact I saw Shrek 2 with my wife and friends at the cinema a few years before my own kids were born). There has been a recent trend in great animated films that have made me laugh as much as my son and daughter, The Lego Movie and Inside Out to name a few. So when it came to The Secret Life Of Pets I had high hopes. As a pet owner myself I was looking forward to seeing just what was going inside my cat’s head and the trailers had me intrigued.
Sadly, the trailers bore little reflection on the film itself. The Secret Life Of Pets was less about what goes on in your home while you’re at work and school and more a paint by numbers animal adventure purely for the kids. The trailers had pets holding wild parties, a poodle head banging to rock music and animals egging on a dog to drink from a toilet like a drunken frat party. This was all in there, in very minimal doses, and were indeed the only enjoyable bits about the film for me. But what we really got was a saccharine story of two very different dogs overcoming adversity to find their way back home.
Now I have no issue with ‘nice’ stories that address friendship and equality –with the recent events in the UK, it’s a message that should be stronger than ever – but it was nothing that hadn’t been done a hundred times before. I think the fault in the film was that it just wasn’t very funny; the cinema I was in was packed to the brim with kids and their parents and yet there was barely a giggle throughout. I remember a similar setting watching Despicable Me 2 with my family. The audience was rolling with laughter, my son even stood up and danced at one point; with this film the kids sat there with their popcorn and just watched.
That isn’t to say my kids didn’t enjoy it. My daughter loved the fearless Katie, voiced by Jenny Slate. A little white dog with a big heart, she rallies the pets to save the main character Max after he is separated from the others and captured by animal control. She is certainly the most likeable and engaging character in the bunch and the only one to illicit a small smirk from me as she interrogates a cat for information by slapping him across the face with her paws. Her final take-out of the sewer animals, include a couple of pythons, was rather ridiculous, but great fun for the kids.
Kevin Hart’s Snowball, the bunny out for revenge was obviously inspired by characters like Puss in Boots and the killer rabbit from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, a character abandoned by his owners and leading a rabid band of animals in the sewers with plans of overthrowing humanity. There could have been a lot more done with this character and his cohorts, particularly the tattooed pig, but the film never adds any depth to the storytelling to make him anything more than a one note villain with a hidden softer side.
The leads Max (Louis C.K) and Duke (Eric Stonestreet of Modern Family fame) are also similarly simple in nature. The film actually has them actively bully each other in their first meeting but the path to friendship is so obvious that there is never anything engaging in their plight to return home. Again, it’s a kids film so there you can’t expect anything too complex, but there is nothing really interesting in the story to stick with you after the film has ended.
The closest perhaps to the premise is Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’s Ellie Kemper as Katie, a cat who in true feline fashion doesn’t really care about the events in question. Kemper is part of a long list of good TV actors, from Louis C.K and Duke Eric Stonestreet to Steve Coogan, but they feel wasted in these roles.
Perhaps I am being too harsh; my kids enjoyed it and I am sure others will too. But if you’re expecting another animated classic, you are going to be disappointed. While 2016’s earlier Zootopia didn’t rise to the all time animated cinematic greats, it was more fun than this film, which was more Homeward Bound than The Secret Life Of Pets. Without the laughs to keep us engaged, it is one film that won’t be added to our DVD collection…
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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