The Secret Life of Pets is fun, but it’s not clever

Published: July 11, 2016
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this is the kind of movie that parents dream of –something that will make them not fall asleep while keeping the wee ones happy.

What do you get when you mix Toy Story, arguably the greatest animated movie ever, with talking canines? Voila! I present you with the latest animated venture from Illumination Entertainment, The Secret Life of Pets.

Proceedings start off with the likeable terrier Max (Louis CK), his neighbour Gidget (Jenny Slate), and the finicky fat cat Chloe (Lake Bell).

Max (Louis CK)
Photo: IMDb

Gidget (Jenny Slate)
Photo: IMDb

Chloe (Lake Bell)
Photo: IMDb

The narrative kicks into gear when Max’s owner, brings home a new pooch for Max to be buds with – the oversized and hairy Duke (Eric Stonestreet). Seeing him as a rival for his owner’s affection, Max plans to get rid of the intruder.

Max (Louis CK), Duke (Eric Stonestreet), and Katie (Ellie Kemper)
Photo: IMDb

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Duke (Eric Stonestreet), Katie (Ellie Kemper) and Max (Louis CK)
Photo: IMDb

This turf war leads to the main adventure where the dog duo gets lost and end up with an underground group of abandoned animals headed by an evil bunny named Snowball (Kevin Hart).

Snowball (Kevin Hart)
Photo: IMDb

Snowball (Kevin Hart)
Photo: IMDb

Snowball (Kevin Hart)
Photo: IMDb

Meanwhile, the little lapdog, Gidget, who’s in love with Max, initiates a mission with fellow pooches to find him once she realises he’s not home. The rest of the movie consists of Max and Duke trying to get home before Snowball and his gang finish them off.

Gidget (Jenny Slate) and Max (Louis CK)
Photo: IMDb

Photo: IMDb

Photo: IMDb

The studio behind Minions (2015), is no Pixar, so if you are expecting another Woody and Buzz Lightyear type of adventure substituted by domesticated animals, you are in for a rude awakening.

Chloe (Lake Bell), Gidget (Jenny Slate), Tiberius (Albert Brooks), Mel (Bobby Moynihan), Buddy (Hannibal Buress)
Photo: IMDb

Gidget (Jenny Slate) and Tiberius (Albert Brooks)
Photo: IMDb

The Secret Life of Pets is fun, but it’s not clever. The children might have a great deal of fun and this might in turn make you all glad and happy, but don’t even bother if you are an adult without kids to accompany you.

Chloe (Lake Bell), Gidget (Jenny Slate) and Buddy (Hannibal Buress)
Photo: IMDb

Gidget (Jenny Slate) and Max (Louis CK)
Photo: IMDb

The animated feature draws on the universal experience of pet ownership to draw out warm and fuzzy feelings amongst all of us, but the film lacks that strong emotional punch of a Pixar production. There’s nothing much going on below the surface, neither emotionally nor thematically and all of it is just superficially funny.

Chloe (Lake Bell), Max (Louis CK) and Mel (Bobby Moynihan)
Photo: IMDb

Snowball (Kevin Hart) and Max (Louis CK)
Photo: IMDb

My chief gripe with The Secret Life of Pets is how they have taken such an intriguing premise, even if it’s a Toy Story rip-off, and turned it into an average fare with all the absurd cartoony sequences. The film’s biggest crime is how it wastes the opportunity to provide insight into, well, the secret life of pets.

Katie (Ellie Kemper) and Max (Louis CK)
Photo: IMDb

Chloe (Lake Bell), Gidget (Jenny Slate), Tiberius (Albert Brooks), Mel (Bobby Moynihan), Buddy (Hannibal Buress)
Photo: IMDb

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Chloe (Lake Bell) and Max (Louis CK)
Photo: IMDb

Even the best comical parts are already known, if one has managed to watch one of its extended trailers on YouTube.

As for voice-acting, it was actually a pleasant surprise hearing stand-up comic CK’s signature dry wit coming out of a cute cartoon pup.

Max (Louis CK)
Photo: IMDb

Duke (Eric Stonestreet)
Photo: IMDb

Visually, pets don’t really score high on the “shock and awe” scale. They aren’t bad but there is nothing to write home about either.

Buddy (Hannibal Buress)
Photo: IMDb

Mel (Bobby Moynihan)
Photo: IMDb

Yes, it pretty much lifts off the plot from Toy Story, but if you’re going to copy something off, copy off the best and while far from a classic, this is the kind of movie that parents dream of – something that will make them not fall asleep while keeping the wee ones happy.

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Hassan Sardar

Hassan Sardar

The author is an aspiring filmmaker and a diehard Liverpool fan. He also teaches Screenwriting and Cinematography, and loves tattoos and flip-flops. He tweets as @CineSardar (twitter.com/CineSardar)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.