After what has seemed like an eternity of trailers, teasers, and that goddamn Macklemore song, The Secret Life of Pets has scampered its way onto screens. Illumination Entertainment’s latest feature follows their messy Minions as they prep for the promising Sing set to release in November, and it serves as a vast improvement from their utterly disappointing Despicable Me spin-off, it still leaves quite a few spots on the carpet.
If you somehow managed to miss one of the overly-played trailers, Max, an adorable brown and white dog voiced by Louis C.K., gets a new housemate in the form of a giant, shaggy dog, Duke (Eric Stonestreet) who starts to take the attention and affection of their owner, Katie (Elie Kemper). After trying to take dominance over Duke, Max and his rival end up far away from home in a city full of animals ranging from stinking cute to surprisingly scary. If this sounds familiar at all, just replace all of these talking animals with talking toys.
That’s right, The Secret Life of Pets is basically Toy Story with animals.
With its rich and lush animation that serves as Illumination’s best work yet, the movie is simply fun to look at. New York is wondrously realized with colors that burst off the screen, especially its reds and oranges. The animals are even more gorgeous with stunning individual strands of hair and fur. The cast is big and fun, as would be expected with this sort of movie, and the world itself is full of fun little elements.
But while a lot of these elements make for solid entertainment, they aren’t really that original. With it’s basic story and idea ripped directly from Toy Story, The Secret Life of Pets does try to make the most out of the formula. Each animal is given their own personality; from the Max-obsessed Gidget (Jenny Slate), to the completely psychotic Snowball (Keven Hart who steals the show) who wants to exact revenge on all humans for abandoning their pets with a gang of forgotten animals, and Tiberius (Albert Brooks, in a vastly different role from Marlin) a hungry hawk who has difficulties not eating every small animal, these are just some of the few creatures we come in contact with and there’s plenty of room for a sequel.
Yet where Pixar nails the emotional aspect rife with childhood nostalgia, Secret Life feels much more like a straightforward adventure movie that never really allows emotions to take hold. Sure, there are some sweet moments, but for a movie about pets (specifically dogs) this one is probably the least emotional one out there when you think of films like Haichi, My Dog Skip, and Marley and Me. The one major moment in the film that would illicit any sort of emotion is breezed over like it was a last minute add-on as it tries to get back to the high-speed action that eventually escalates into a humorous—though Finding Dory-level over-the-top—showdown on the Brooklyn Bridge with kung-fu fighting and all.
Perhaps the trailers simply showed too much of the good stuff too many times for me to find much to love here. There is a lot to like, but considering this is essentially Toy Story with pets, it’s easy to predict some of the emotional beats. Luckily, the characters are enough to get you through a film that has no desire to create any emotion (but does make you want a pet for yourself). Not pawesome, but purrty decent, The Secret Life of Pets could have used a little more time to perfect its tricks.