Release: 14th November 2016
Format: BR / DVD / DGTL
When their owners leave for the day, pets from the building gossip with their friends, satisfy their sweet tooths, and throw outrageous parties. But when a pampered terrier and his unruly new “roommate” from the pound get lost in the urban jungle of New York City, they must put aside their differences to survive the epic journey back home.
There is little that can be said about The Secret Life of Pets from the perspective of an adult, that would amount to anything other than a sub-tepid response. It is a kooky, uneven, meandering headache of a movie that plays all of its cards in the opening montage – when you go out, your pets do stuff – and fails to say much else. There is no doubt this film originally started down Toy Story territory, but gradually, as with most Illumination films, dissolves into a nonsensical torrent of noise and colour. For kids, however, The Secret Life of Pets is a riot.
The film does have its moments of fun. The relationship between Max and Duke is bubbly, while Kevin Hart and Steve Coogan deliver spot-on eccentricity as Snowball and Ozone, respectively. Then there is the scene in the sausage factory, which could easily become the source of the studio’s next major release (Sausage Party notwithstanding). But the film’s greatest asset is its observations of animal behaviour. There is, undeniably, something adorable about animals acting like humans, and although The Secret Life of Pets goes in the opposite way to Disney (no anthropomorphic wildlife here), it manages to hone in on what makes a dog a dog while still adding a recognisably human quality. It’s a very basic expectation to have of the movie, but Illumination deliver in a most excellent and enjoyable way.
However, like a dog chasing its tail or a cat bundling after reflected light, The Secret Life of Pets is uncontrollably lacking in reason. It springs from the story of Max to a road movie, to side narratives of self-discovery for Gidget and the underworld threat of Snowball, before deciding all along that this is really about Duke and his origins; and that is trying to explain this cohesively! During the film’s mania, these moments feel even less connective. Much like Illumination’s previous debacle, Minions, it would seem that very little effort was made in forming a film and not a series of smaller sketches. Thankfully though, The Secret Life of Pets has a foot up on its predecessor due to lack of brand exhaustion.
Kids will undoubtedly get a kick out of the film’s wild atmosphere, and the seemingly tenuous set pieces will probably work to keep little minds attentive. The voice cast are excellent, and the animation at times rather beautiful, but as a family movie The Secret Life of Pets is destined to polarise more than it unites.
Film Grade: D+
What the film lacks in sense, it makes up for with enjoyable special features. There are a series of Interviews that give more grounding as to the film’s creation, then a bunch of Making Ofs that chart many of the aspects that make up various stages of creating an animated feature.
The Mini Movies are pretty fun (Sausages once again steal the show), while a Making The Minis, is an eye-opening look at how distant the film’s creators were from the animator.
Then comes Meet The Animals and Hairstylist To The Pets, which are both hilarious and extremely endearing. The Best Of Snowball is essentially clips from the film, and the Music Video is just that.
Oddly enough, Lewis C.K., Albert Brooks, Steve Coogan and Dana Carvey are all absent throughout.
Special Features Grade: B
The Secret Life of Pets is out now on digital download and comes to Blu-Ray and DVD on 14th November, courtesy of Universal Pictures (UK)