Thursday, July 7, 2016

The Secret Life of Pets is for the Puppies

Gidget (Jenny Slate) and Max (Louis C.K.), the best thing about The Secret Life of Pets. (Illumination)
MOVIE REVIEW
As a lover of both cats and dogs, I really looked forward to seeing The Secret Life of Pets. What a great concept! Sure, the commercials for the movie were a bit hit or miss, but the last trailer for the movie I saw in the theater knocked it out of the park. Hilarious. Unfortunately, the actual movie didn’t offer much more.

The Secret Life of Pets is not a bad movie, but it is one of those movies where you want to stand up in the middle of it and say, “Go back and finish this movie and don't come back until you are able to do it right!” While it may not be fair, it was difficult to see Pets right after seeing the more superb Finding Dory, another movie about animals going through an incredible adventure with crazy hijinks.

Pets could have been a great movie as it had so much to offer, but directors Yarrow Cheney and Chris Renaud wasted it all on funny gags. Granted, there are a lot of funny gags in the movie, but that shouldn’t be the whole point of the movie, should it? Yes, little kids will love this movie, but so would have a lot of adults if it was done right. The biggest mistake of the film? There’s no heart. Well, there is some, but not enough. The best scenes are at the beginning when the owners are leaving for the day and at the end when they come home and are reunited with their pets.


The Secret Life of Pets does have a thin storyline that is introduced in the beginning of the film. Katie (voiced by Ellie Kemper) is the contented owner of Max (brilliantly voiced by Louis C.K. and is the best thing about this movie). Katie goes off to work and we get to see what Max and his friends do all day while she is gone. Max plans on just sitting by the door until Katie comes home, but he is soon visited by his other latch-key pet friends. They have a great time together and then scatter just before Katie arrives.

Katie and Max have the perfect life until one day Katie comes home with a new pet: Duke (Eric Stonestreet) who makes himself a little too comfortable for Max’s liking. Max begins to scheme how he can get rid of Duke but Duke is not going back to the pound. Soon, the two try to out-do each other in making the other look bad. Eventually, they find themselves out on the streets where all the cats are strays and unfriendly. The will have to rely on each other to make it back home safely. They are aided along the way by their many friends let by Gidget (Jenny Slate) who pines for the love of Max but is afraid to tell him so.

In short, Pets should have been a heart-felt journey of two enemies who become life-long friends, but that doesn’t happen. Oh sure, they work together and (spoiler alert) they make it back home safe and sound, but there is no real growth to their friendship just crazy hijinks after crazy hijinks. The movie is over-crowded with characters giving each of them less to do. The film is equally lacking in plot and character development.

Again, it may not be fair to compare, but Disney has been doing this type of animal adventure story for years with 101 Dalmatians, The Aristocats, Oliver and Company and even this year's Zootopia. Each has a nice balance of character development, voice work, adventure, comedy and heart. Pets manages the comedy and voices part well, so I suppose two out of five isn’t terrible. You could do a lot worse.

And speaking of worse, Illumination pairs The Secret Life of Pets with a new Minions short. Now, I have a soft spot for these little yellow guys and I think that shorts are really the right venue for them, but this one was painfully unfunny and actually gross. The simple plot revolves around the little guys wanting to raise money so that they can buy the ultimate banana smoothie maker. They decide to do yard work for an old people’s home. Silly gags abound with a lot of doggy doo jokes. I can’t remember the last time I saw a cartoon that featured poop and I don’t want to see one again. Maybe I need to see Dory one more time…

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