From the large list of Summer releases in 2016, “The Secret Life of Pets” was one that did extremely well, in fact it did crazy numbers. Now that it’s time for me to finally take a look at it, can Illumination Entertainment score another win, or a swing and a miss?
If you have seen the trailers for this (and if not, how on Earth did you achieve that???), you’ll know this poses the question of what do pets get up to after their owners leave for work. It’s a fun premise that centralises on the main character Max, and his owner’s new pet Duke. Their bickering and early arguments get them caught by the Pet Control, so it is up to the other pet residents of the apartment block to save them.
Which is unfortunately where we enter the first stumbling block. Once the tagline premise has been introduced and shown off, it kind of gets cast aside in order to tell a very mediocre, bland rescue tale which we have seen countless times before from animated films. The idea remains in the background throughout, but never makes a return of providing striking comedy or a focused aspect to the plot. Instead, the story seems happy to just live in the present moment, bouncing randomly and clumsily from one scenario to the next.
Of course, an animated feature typically has to rely heavily on comedy in order to keep their story running, and to bind scenes together. It was a style which Pixar has relied upon for years. But it seems that Illumination doesn’t quite have the same level of writing going on. It was all such a bland paste – runny and flavourless. There was nothing particularly bad about it, but at the same time I wasn’t being drawn along by the many characters or their traits either. They’re pretty standard examples really. The main issue being (and this might be the primary complaint) is that the script really lets the side down. With such a big city and so many different characters to work with, it ends up striking a muted tone.
Lastly, I have to bring up an issue with the animation. They’re going for a New York skyline blended with a bit of French flair, and for the most part it works fine. But the pets themselves can look a bit low-grade at times, and the problems lies with their eyes. I don’t know what they were trying to pull off in order to generate expressions with them, but they looked fucking weird all the way through. And it kept catching my attention when I saw the flat, dimensionless pupils staring at the screen. I’m not sure if I’m in the minority on this or not, but it kept pulling me away from the film.
And as one last remark, the name of the movie is “The Secret Life of Pets”, and yet everything that happens in the rescue could not be further from being secret. They’re constantly in the damm open in plain sight of every passing human! You’ll probably call it a small quibble, but come on, by the last sequence of tension I audibly laughed at how dumb it all looked.
Now, in defence of this I did find myself laughing at a few moments of comedy. And I mean come on, it’s about pets. How could I not have a soft heart for them? I did like the variety they placed in, and the background visuals are okay too. Thankfully there’s very little in the way of stupid songs and dances, except for one idiotic moment with some kind of sausage dream sequence. Why do they still think it mandatory to add Minion-style characters into every film they make??? I am getting really tired of that gimmick.
By the end of it all I found it hard to like “The Secret Life of Pets”, it was just all too bland and predictable for me to enjoy it properly. There’s nothing that is downright awful, and hey, kids will love the hell out of it. But if Illumination wants to genuinely mark their land in the animation world, they need to wheel out something of quality and creativity. Not just crowd pleasers which keep repeating the same jokes and styles.
(7.5/10 for families and kids)
Thanks for reading!