Adventure, Animation, Comedy, Film, Review

Speak, Boy, Speak! A Review of The Secret Life of Pets

[Originally published on Reviews by Steve, July 27th, 2016]
For a look at another Illumination Entertainment film, click here for my review of Sing.

As a dad, I do get to see my fair share of animated and child-related films. While I am occasionally surprised by well-camouflaged adult fare (The Lego Movie, among others), it’s a rarer thing that I genuinely enjoy a movie aimed at children alone. This movie is 90% for kids, but that 10% hit some really good spots for me, making it a more than worthy addition to your summer movie schedule. Plus, it’s by the producers of the Despicable Me movies. Click through for my full review.

This is not a must-see movie in the same way that last year’s Pixar flick Inside Out was, but this is still a good summer movie that will serve to not only entertain your child, but teach her or him a lesson at the same time. Where the aforementioned Inside Out dealt with all the large issues of transiting through our tween years into puberty – big issues indeed – Life focuses on the microcosmic: loyalty, honesty, and the importance of friendship. Arguably, these are all equally as important as dealing with the big life/hormone changes that we all have to deal with through puberty, and the beauty is that these are all issues that we continue to deal with through all of our life stages.

Lending their voices to the film are Louis C.K. – surprisingly in his first animated outing – Eric Stonestreet (who had me certain that he was Will Ferrel during the movie), Kevin Hart as a deliciously psychotic white bunny named Snowball, and Jenny Slate as a Pomeranian on speed, who reminds me of Alison Brie’s Unikitty in Lego. Albert Brooks [Tiberius], Dana Carvey [Pops], and Steve Coogan [Ozone and Reginald] round out the voice cast with some experienced crew. “But,” you might say, “Chris Rock made his voice debut in Osmosis Jones, an eminently forgettable film on every level (except for the booger jokes); why should I be interested in Louis C.K. making his debut?” Because this movie teaches so much more than nasal hygiene, while at the same time being entertaining.

At it’s heart, this is a buddy movie. Max is a happy dog, with a strong relationship with his human. All around him. other pets live their lives – working with their humans, but also working together on a level humans are simply too simple to understand. Enter Duke. He’s a big, lovable, shaggy dog – but he’s coming into Max’s home, and Max is none too happy. Duke, fresh from the Pound, has no interest in going back, and he finagles his way into their master’s heart while making Max look like the bad dog. But when push comes to shove, when Max becomes alienated and thrown out, it’s Duke that comes to his rescue – and Max that must overcome his prejudice to find his – dogmanity? – and come to Duke’s aid in his hour of need.

The film has a wonderful cast of supporting characters, from Chloe the diet-challenged cat, to Gidget the dog sick with unrequited love, from Tattoo the tattooed pig used for tattoo practice (how many times can I say tattoo in one sentence?), to beyond loyal pug Mel (you’ve seen him in the PetSmart ads), every pet has its place, and adds to the overall experience of the movie. The primary conceit of the film is a battle between those animals that agree to be pets, colluding with human mastery, versus those animals that have broken free from human mastery/dependency, led by Snowball the unbelievably cute-yet-psychotic rabbit Snowball.

Yes, there are predictable moments, but these are the kind of predictable moments that your typical six-year-old will watch, get, and then feel a sense of accomplishment as they realize that they’ve understood something before it’s happened. In that sense, here’s a movie that will help to encourage your child’s sense of confidence and accomplishment. It’s not the best movie in the history of movies – or even in the last couple of years of animated film – but it is something that children and their parents will be able to enjoy together. Parents will especially like the sausage factory montage – it’s a dreamlike sequence that feels like a call-out to The Big Lebowski‘s bowling and dancing girls scene. Overall, despite it’s tendency toward predictability, it is a movie worth watching.

Steve’s Rating: 7 out of 10 stars (7 / 10)
A good bit of fun from the producers of the Despicable Me movies, that presents a story that addresses friendship and loyalty using language that kids and adults will sympathize with.

Director: Yarrow Cheney, Chris Renaud
Writers: Cinco Paul, Ken Daurio, Brian Lynch (written by) & Simon Rich (additional characters created by)
Starring: Louis C.K., Eric Stonestreet, Kevin Hart, Jenny Slate, Ellie Kemper, Albert Brooks
Release Date: July 8, 2016
Runtime: 1h, 27min
MPAA Rating: PG

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