By Thomas Simpson
Illumination Entertainment aren’t a household name like Walt Disney, Dreamworks or Pixar. However, their huge success with Despicable Me and its subsequent sequel and spin-off has propelled the animation studio into the mainstream. Moving away from the Minions (although they do make an appearance in the pre-feature short film) their latest project is The Secret Life of Pets. With Walt Disney’s Zootopia’s still fresh in everyone’s mind, are the public ready for more animal animation?
Max (Louis C.K.) is a small terrier dog who is pretty content with his life. He loves his owner Katie (Ellie Kemper) and lives a spoiled life. That whole world is turned upside down when Katie brings home Duke (Eric Stonstreet), a much bigger dog who soon asserts his alpha male status in the household. Consumed with jealousy, the dogs engage in a bitter rivalry with their antics finding them stranded on the streets of New York and being treated like strays. Now the dogs find themselves on the run from animal control and a sociopathic bunny called Snowball (Kevin Hart) who leads a human hating cult of abandoned pets.
There isn’t much to fault in the animation. The film has its fair share of adorably drawn characters with excellent detail given to their surroundings. It is brightly colored with frenetic set pieces designed to keep younger audiences transfixed.
The Secret Life of Pets boasts an impressive voice cast. Along with the previously mentioned actors, Jenny Slate, Steve Coogan and Albert Brooks lend their voices to the supporting characters with Brooks’ hawk eliciting some chuckles with his conflicted nature.
The main issue is the script which lacks the wit to make up for its generic plot. There’s a few laugh out loud moments but the film feels flat for the most part and never gets out of second gear. It’s difficult to look at the film without comparing it to the recent, and far superior, Zootopia. The comparisons are evident but the films aren’t in the same league. The Flushed Pets cult explores some social commentary but never goes into any depth, instead the story flounders into the third act failing to end on the euphoric high it promises despite its happy ending.
There is little value for the parents in the audience with this film so maybe it’s best just waiting for the DVD release.
Thomas Simpson is a writer and filmmaker based in Glasgow, U.K. Find him on Twitter: @Simmy41.