Illumination Entertainment, most well known for its Despicable Me series of children’s films, delivers The Secret Life of Pets - an amusing, albeit formulaic, movie showcasing the answer to the prevalent question “What do our furry companions do when we leave?”
Well, the answer is exactly what you’d expect: mischief. Whether it be visiting one another’s apartments, dancing to heavy-metal rock music, socializing and then, when their owners return, act like they’ve been patiently waiting all day for them to open the door.
With an all-star cast of Hollywood actors of which kids would almost never recognize (Louis C.K., Kevin Hart, Eric Stonestreet, Jenny Slate), The Secret Life of Pets is a fast-paced, character-saturated satisfier of a film that never seems to (or even attempt to) reach for its full potential.
Essentially, without getting even close to the emotional depth of its Pixar counterparts, the film deals with the neighborhood reaction of having a new pet enter a pre-established home. The script has some very enjoyable morsels that poke fun at some of the darndest things our pets do, but follows a very direct, generic movie formula of conflict, action, climax, resolution - with a heavy emphasis on action.
From the start, Pets is non-stop. On a consistent basis for the first thirty minutes of the film a new character with a unique personality is added, most notably Snowball - an eccentric, maniacal bunny rabbit voiced by Hart, who stole the show naturally. It was sometimes difficult to keep up and catch a breath because before I knew it the countless team of animals were up and running again through a non-descript New York City and I was stuck wondering who these essential plot devices were.
One of the greatest benefits that has been a trend in recent children’s films are the sly undertones outlining ‘bigger picture’ societal dilemmas. Social consciousness is explored in Zootopia. The Lego Movie is a parody of fascism. The Secret Life of Pets doesn’t though and, coming from an audience member who isn’t ten years old, I was just looking forward to some thinking. Especially when you add an all-star cast that is primarily known for adult comedies and R-rated movies to market to that particular viewership.
However, you can’t blame a children’s movie for not being an intelligent, thrilling feature film. For a movie judged at its base level genre, Pets could be the mold itself. It’s funny! There’s enough room in the action for some good jokes and character development. It has a happy ending, a Minions short-film preceding the movie, and likable, affable fuzzy critters who go on an adventure. What’s not to like?
The Secret Life of Pets is an average, run-of-the-mill, children’s movie. It’s not particularly memorable, but it’s amusing, animated fun.
It just could have been so much more.