General Review: The Secret Life of Pets

Hello, Spongey here.

2016 animation continues, with the help of Illumination. They are one of many studios that have popped up to compete with the likes of Disney and Dreamworks and have started to make a decent name for themselves.

But they have been rather hit or miss. And by I mean, I mean Despicable Me is the only thing they’ve really got. While I did like The Lorax, it’s reaction was mixed, and I reviewed Hop and all you know how much that sucked.

And even Despicable Me is start to run it’s course, all thanks to Minions. The movie itself was okay guess, but did it need to happen? No. Yet it made a billion dollars because reasons. So even if their films get worse, they will still be around.

I hope they step it up and either try something different, or try a bit harder. But their output is mostly harmless I suppose. And this year they have two chances to prove themselves, and here’s out first one.

This is one of the many film this year I was on the fence about. On one hand, it looked pretty typical, but some parts also looked kind of cute and creative. The trailer started off kind of lame but got more interesting when the real plot seemed to start.

So I wasn’t sure if this would be any good. Then the reviews came in and they are…positive? Well, they aren’t hugely positive but most of them say it’s funny and cute which means it’s at least passable.

It even has a fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. Oddly enough, the critics I follow online don’t care too much for it, as well as the casual viewers I know. So the Critics are liking something more than normal people.

WHAT SORCERY IS THIS?!

I’m in the casual viewer category, so we’ll see how this goes. The directors and writers are just people who worked on the Studios previous films, so we can move on. Will this be a fun enough little comedy, or is there a reason their lives are secrets? Let’s find out.

This, is The Secret Life of Pets

Before I start, I should mention that before the movie, there was a Minions short. They tend to be in short bursts, but this was just a bunch of noise. The lawn gnome gag was amusing though. You can take a piss while this is playing. Now for the movie.

ANIMATION:

Yeah, I’ll start with this from now on. For this film, there isn’t a lot to say anyway. This movie is all about the character animation. The settings and general look are fairly typical for this kind of movie. The locations and background still look decent, but nothing really stands out about them.

And while the character animation isn’t especially detailed, it’s still good. Every animal looks unique, even those of the same basic species. They move exactly like they would in real life, but are still able to be cartoon-y enough.

It’s a nice mix. They at least had fun with the various animals and the wacky stuff they do. It’s cartoon-y while still looking good for a film. The animation is nice. It’s bright and colorful, and the characters all stand out pretty well.

It’s nothing mind blowing, but it does look nice and some bits stand out. There isn’t much else to say. The general look is okay but the strong character animation makes this at least a nice looking movie.

WRITING:

Inside of a Manhattan apartment building, a terrier named Max lives a spoiled life with his owner Katie and hangs out with other pets. One day, Katie adopts a giant dog called Duke who is very sloppy and careless. One day they end up getting lost in the city, and their pet pals must go out to save them.

This is a movie that is very focused on Comedy, and purposely makes the story simple. As I’ve said this before, that can be good or bad depending on how it’s done. Here it’s….a mixed bag. The basic story is….well basic.

Everyone who thinks they’re clever points out how the set up is like Toy Story, but that’s such a huge cliché nowadays that it’s just coincidence that TS started that trend. The basic story does nothing too new, nor does it add in anything extra to the main story.

It’s a typical animals get lost and have to find their way home story, with a big cliché at the start of it. That on it’s own is fine, but the actual writing has problems. It feels like too much time is spent on the subplot with the other animals, because sometimes it feels like the main characters barely do anything in the middle.

And the main concept is rushed. They just bond fairly quickly, as I expect at this point. Speaking of rushed, this has one of the weakest rushed endings in a while. I won’t spoil anything, but something about Duke’s backstory is revealed…sort of.

They bring it up…and then move on to the climax and never resolve it. They make you question if something is the case, then never answer it! To make it worse, the movie just kind of …stops when they get home.

We see that they are friends (not a spoiler), it just stops there. The film just wraps up there, not finishing some of the arcs, and rushing others. It feels like they were on a deadline and just rushed the ending.

I have seen worse endings, but if you set up something, at least resolve it. I’ll go into slightly more detail later, as it’s also a character problem. From all this, you think the writing is just lazy and bad, right?

…Well….not quite. It’s a mixed bag, like I said. As I said, it’s all about the wacky comedy and….some of it works. Most of the jokes amount to “cute animal does wacky stuff” but there is some variety with them.

There’s certainly a variety of characters, and each has one joke. Some are better than others, but the ones that work are amusing. There’s some charm in the basic premise, as my favorite scene might be the opening montage of the pets daily lives. It was well edited, and quite amusing.

It’s a one joke premise, but they make a lot out of that joke sometimes. On the other hand, it has some typical kids movie jokes. The rabbit just shit himself. Hilarious. Also, this is the 2nd Illumination film where the main character kills someone.

At least it’s only one this time, but yikes. If Sing has any death, I’ll be worried. While some humor works, some fails too. The writing works best when they just take advantage of situations, like some of the scenes with the Rabbit.

It’s fine when it’s simple, but it often fails then trying to bite off more than that. For what it’s worth, there’s more amusing moments than boring/dumb moments in the end. The bad moment didn’t last too long at least.

In the worst moments, it’s just dumb or boring. Far from the horrors of Norm. Overall, the writing is a bit mixed. It likes to keep it simple, which can work due to good humor. But sometimes it’s too simple, not giving us enough, and when it tries to do more, it fails due to poor pacing and a rushed ending.

It’s not that the worst writing ever, as some of it works, but in general, it ends up being too simple and rushed for it’s own good. It has some decent humor though.

CHARACTERS:

I said this film has a variety of characters. Unfortunately, this is a case of quantity over quality.

Starting our main character Max, voiced by Louis Ck, he’s an energetic dog who loves his owner to the point of spending his day waiting for her to get him. I’ll admit he’s kind of likable with how he is, but once the plot kicks in, he becomes pretty one dimensional. Even his thing with Duke doesn’t make him more complex.

Louis CK does a good job though. Actually, most of the voice acting is really good. They don’t feel like forced celebrity cameos and they provide some laughs.

With him is Duke, voiced by Eric Stonestreets. He’s the new dog who causes trouble for Max. He’s kind of mixed, because he’s a jerk from the start but you can argue Max starts some of it. And he has his okay moments, including his backstory which is never finished. Yeah, without spoiling they reveal something, and I wonder if it’s true, or how he will handle it.

Never addressed. They move onto the climax, as I said and we NEVER see how Duke feels about it. He bonds with Max…and that’s it. This actually could have brought some complexity to him but as it is, he’s just kind of a dumb dog with a half baked backstory. Meh.

Then we have our villain Snowball, voiced by Kevin Hart. While an evil Rabbit has been done in Hoodwinked, I will say he was one of the better characters. His silly evil nature makes him pretty funny in some parts, and Kevin Hart does a surprisingly good job with him. Granted, I fear he could become the next Chris Rock but he’s good here at least.

However, he’s not much a villain in the end. I won’t spoil anything but in the end he doesn’t amount to much and the ending to his side of the story is as rushed as everything else. Ah well.

Everyone else is just there so we can go through them quickly. There’s Gidget, voiced by Jenny Slate. She’s kind of Max’s love interest, in that she likes him but he doesn’t notice her. She’s amusing with her nature and kicks some ass later on, but they just kind of hook up out of nowhere. There’s not much reason to make here a love interest, other than that all kids movies need them for some reason.

The other friends can be gone through pretty quickly. There’s a pug named Mel (voiced by Panda from We Bare Bears), a dachshund named Buddy voiced by Hannibal Burgess, a cat named Chloe (voiced by Lake Bell), and a parakeet named Sweet Pea, voiced by Tara Strong. They are amusing sometimes, but usually they are just there to fill in the group. They work best in the first arc when they are just jokes, as they don’t work as full characters.

Honestly, my favorites are two people that help out, a hawk named Tiberuis (voiced by Albert Brooks in two animated films in a row) and a paralyzed hound named Pops, voiced by Dana Carvey. They prove to be good helpers, and get some of the funniest bits, especially Pops with his attitude of not giving a crap.

They work since they are meant to be just helpers, and aren’t a total addition to the main group, meant to be real characters. They were fun. Oh, and the villain has a pig assistant voiced by Micheal Beattie. I suppose Max’s owner voiced by Ellie Kemper (Two people from Sofia the First in one film?) exists, but she’s just there to get the plot started.

That’s pretty much it for the characters. To be fair, none are hatable, and most have at least one amusing moment. Some I even outright enjoy for the most part. I’ll go easy on this grade but this cast is still not great.

There are too many characters going around, and are just one note jokes, with sloppy writing making a few worse. But most are amusing and I will remember at least one or two. While that is the case, they could have easily cut a few to focus on the ones that needed improvement.

Final Thoughts:

Overall, The Secret Life of Pets can be summed up in two words: “Amusing” and “Sloppy”. The simple writing means we get a cliché story with rushed elements, and too many charectrs to care about, but the animation is nice, and the focus on humor means some of it is enjoyable, and a few characters stand out, with some good casting.

It’s…okay. A harmless diversion that will make for a fine time waster. Even with the weak writing, it can offer some nice laughs. Normally I would flat out not like it, but I don’t know, there’s a certain charm to it. The simple-ness can work and I mostly entertained. I just wish some elements were written better. Either get rid of the complex elements, or go through with them.

You can tell they just wanted to have fun with this one, and it’s not too cynical (making it better than Angry Birds or the polar bear that shall not be named). It needs work but it works as a passable kids film.

I’d recommend it to people with kids, just make sure not to pay too much. For the most part, I’d wait to rent in. It makes for a fine rental so you can fast forward through the boring parts. If you just want some amusing gags and that’s it, you’ll enjoy it.

If you want more, than you should skip it. There’s worse out there but it’s not worth it for you. For me, it just had enough charm that I’ll go pretty easy on it. And it’s problem aren’t terrible at least, just weak.

It’s like Minions. Pretty weak with the writing, but has decent humor and few fine characters. At least this has a reason to exist outside of money. But yeah, while it mostly harmless and amusing, I want this studio to try something different.

Just being cute fun won’t cut it for much longer. Hopefully Sing can bring us something more interesting. By the way, there’s a poster for it in one scene. Hardy har.

Writing: C+

Animation: B

Characters: B-

OVERALL: B-. Subject to change

And like I said, still better than some other films out there. Next on the animated slate is another entry from a franchise that should just die. But next week….oh boy. Time for another review that will get me killed no matter what I say.

See ya.

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About Spongey444

I'm 20 and I'm a slightly below average man who can barely spell. I mostly spend my time watching TV and movies, hence why i ended doing a blog all about those things. I tend to have weird tastes, but I like think I'm just fair on things.
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