The Secret Life of Pets Is As Generic As Can Be.
The Secret Life of Pets.
Director: Yarrow Cheney and Chris Renaud.
Writers: Cinco Paul, Ken Daurio, and Bryan Lynch.
Cast: Louis C.K., Eric Stonestreet, Ellie Kemper, Jenny Slate, Kevin Hart, Hannibal Burress, Bobby Moynihan, Lake Bell and Dana Carvey.
Dreamworks Animation has always been a strange, mildly frustrating studio.
At times, it has flashed a great ability to create smart and emotionally charged animated movies. At other times, the studio has show a proclivity for making generic movies where the posters all look the same.
But, hey, the talent roster lined up for The Secret Life of Pets — including Louis C.K., Ellie Kemper, Hannibal Burress and Jenny Slate among many talented others — seems like a good sign, right? We should be a new classic on our hands! Alas, no, The Secret Life of Pets simply takes a generic Homeward Bound-type story and throws in an “odd couple” twist to pretty forgettable results.
The movie follows a rescue dog named Max (C.K.) as he goes through his life with his owner, Katie (Kemper), who he loves like crazy. Max spends his days with his friends that include a Daschund named Buddy (Burress), a bulldog named Mel (Moynihan), and a cat named Chloe (Lake Bell). All is perfect. Of course, that perfection is ruined when Katie brings home a gigantic Newfoundland named Duke (Eric Stonestreet). After the new doggie roommates each attempt to run the other out of the house, Max and Duke find themselves lost in New York City with no collars on, and with humans and animals alike chasing after them.
Would you guess that this mismatched duo is then able to get over its differences and work together toward a common goal?
To be fair, the movie is not completely bland. It’s filled with jokes that mine from the odd way that pets act — like how they seem to miss their owners the second they’re out the door or how cats just can’t help themselves around laser pointers or how the fancy poodle loves his System of a Down on full blast. There’s also some good humor from the insane anti-human group leader, Fluffball (Kevin Hart), whose anger at humans is so evil it’s funny.
Plus, the movie looks great. We’ve come very far from the days of Toy Story and Shrek, folks. Duke and Gidget (Slate) look particularly incredible with their fur, where Duke’s shaggy hair flops around just like a real dog’s would and Gidget’s fluffy hair looks as puffy as a cloud.
Also, to its credit, the movie does explore the larger world of a complex pet society with rules and hierarchies that are not unlike our own. There’s something particularly relevant to the fact that the abandoned pets must band together to survive while the pets with owners have a super pampered life. This could have led to some interesting social commentaries, for sure. But the movie mostly chooses to sidestep these themes to give us its bland main plot.
It’s cure enough, I suppose, but The Secret Life of Pets is such a middle-of-the-road movie that the only real reason to go see it in a theater is to get children to be quiet and to enjoy some air conditioning for 90 minutes.