Film Review: The Secret Life of Pets

by Chad Liffmann on July 8, 2016

Animals run amok in wild, messy, manic children’s film.

Oh, the pet shenanigans!

Oh, the pet shenanigans!

I don’t really know what the point of The Secret Life of Pets was, but I know that children will love the film. The simple Toy Story-esque premise of ‘what do x do while people are gone’ (in this case where are pets) is amusing for the first five to ten minutes of the film, but it quickly spins out of control. The story devolves into an adventure featuring an assortment of animal varieties, of few of which are very rarely legally allowed as pets. The aforementioned adventure is wonderfully animated and truly manic, but the gimmicky premise fades fast and the rest is a hyperactive mess with lots of humorous bits and not a lot of heart. Not like any children will care, though, since they’ll be fully satiated by the maniacally laughing psycho bunny, voiced by Kevin Hart.

The Secret Life of Pets features a treasure trove of voice talent, including Jenny Slate, Kevin Hart, Lake Bell, Albert Brooks, Steve Coogan, Dana Carvey, and many many more. It’s not unusual for Illumination Studios (the folks behind Despicable Me and Minions) to secure top talent. What’s still a bit confusing to me is the casting of Louis C.K. and Eric Stonestreet as the two main protagonists. Good voice actors? Yes. Do they fit in here? No. When you watch a Pixar film, the voices ARE the characters. You don’t think about the actors. The voices don’t separate from the emotions and traits of the characters on screen. Here, Stonestreet and C.K. are lesser fits than the actors’ voicing the many side characters. It bugged me and decreased my interest in the main story line. It may not bug others.

The best part of the film is Jenny Slate’s character, Gidget, a fluffy white Pomeranian with an obsessive crush on Max (C.K.’s character). Gidget’s tough determination contrasts hilariously with Slate’s delicate raspy delivery. She’s just fun to watch and she’s the best part of each scene she’s in. Coming in second is Snowball, a psychotic white bunny who leads an underground resistance of animals hell bent on destroying all humans, voiced by Kevin Hart. Snowball is twitchy and random and his antics are distractingly funny enough to negate how much his character pushes the plot to the limits of fathomability and complete randomness. Most of it is pretty hilarious though. Again, children will absolutely love him.

To sum up, Illumination did a great job marketing the film, especially with the clip of the metalhead poodle, Leonard. Why, then, did Leonard’s scenes feel completely devoid of humor in the context of the entire film? It’s because there’s only a weak common thread running through all the gags in The Secret Life of Pets — that animals sometimes do crazy things when humans are gone. Okay, sure, but that weak thread can’t balance everything that’s thrown at it over 90 minutes, including Leonard. Did I mention that children will love it nonetheless, though?

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The Secret Life of Pets opens in theaters Friday, July 8th.

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