The first full cinema experience for my kids (barring Peppa Pig And The Golden Boots), The Secret Life Of Pets is one movie my girls (and me) were busting to see having enjoyed the various trailers. This was Illumination Entertainment’s first truly successful move away from the Despicable Me franchise and features all of the zany humour and intelligent insight you would expect. It goes without saying that the film will be just as entertaining for adults as it is for kids – the animated movie genre has come full circle in the early 21st Century for providing cinematic treats for all the family.
The Secret Life Of Pets begins with a series of vignettes based in a typical New York apartment block. Anyone who has ever owned an animal should get a lot of chuckles from these scenes as the behaviour and characteristics of the animals will be very familiar. We focus on little domesticated dog Max, whose life is spent watching the door for his owner Katie to come home. He, like all the pets, wonder what the humans get up to when the leave but his world is shaken up when Kate comes home with a new, much larger dog – Duke. The two do not get along and begin to conspire against one another leading to an intervention by the guys from the Dog Pound…
The film received a fair amount of criticism saying the story and characters were thinly veiled versions of Woody and Buzz from Toy Story. While not entirely untrue, the same can be said for a hell of a lot of other movies and Toy Story took its fair share of ideas from what had come before – it seems a little disingenuous to make such comments about the film when there is so much to enjoy. There is a wide roster of characters and animals, from the skyscraper roof dwelling hawk who would just as soon eat the pets as help them, to the tough street cats who despise the pets for living in domestic bliss. Taking that one step further are the Flushed Pets – the unwanted, lost, or forgotten animals of NYC who live in the sewers (yes, there is a Crocodile). Led by Kevin Hart’s Snowball, a crazed rabbit who wants revenge on all humans, they spend most of the movie chasing down Max and Co who accidentally killed one of their group.
As with any animated movie these days, a key draw and component in its success is the voice cast. It feels a little strange then that this isn’t exactly filled with recognizable A List talent. The cast is good, and they are talented, but most of the performers are not household names. As mentioned, Kevin Hart lends his talents, and he is joined by Steve Coogan, Louis CK, Albert Brooks, Dana Carvey, and then a bunch of sitcom actors I don’t really know. Luckily this won’t matter to anyone but the most obtuse viewer and the youngsters certainly won’t care. The voices are distinct and build each character to match the personality shown via the animation and story – lazy, boisterous, decrepit etc. The performers deliver their lines, whether subtle quips, energetic wails, or general dialogue with vivre and as with all these movies they sound like they enjoyed themselves making it.
The Secret Life Of Pets should be a fun movie for kids of all ages and rewarding for adults too, especially pet owners. It may not be as immediately wacky or laugh out loud funny as some, and it may not have the emotional depth of others, but it is still a lot of fun while offering some insightful crumbs on the little beasties we allow into your homes and love. Let us know in the comments what you thought of the movie and how it ranks alongside other recent efforts!