Film Review: The Secret Life of Pets

Animated adventure looks fun, but doesn’t break new ground for animation

Sam Thornley / Staff Writer

The Secret Life of Pets offers up the entertaining premise of what pets do when their human owners aren’t around. Unfortunately, while there is some fun to be had, the film never fully delivers on the potential it offers to the audience. Starring a voice cast that includes Louis C.K, Eric Stonestreet, Kevin Hart, and Jenny Slate, the animated film by Illumination Entertainment was released on July 8, 2016 and is due to hit home media platforms on December 6.

The film centers on a Jack Russel Terrier named Max, whose comfortable life is flipped on its head when his owner buys a mongrel named Duke. When the rivalry between the two causes them to get lost in New York City, they must work together alongside other pets from their neighborhood to return home while avoiding the deranged Snowball, a rabbit who leads an army of stray animals.

If there is one thing that stands above all else in this film, the animation is extremely well done. The fur on the animals pops out and the skyline of New York is very detailed and looks accurate. Additionally, there is a certain energy to the animation that is highlighted during the animals’ interactions with their environment and each other.

The voice cast of the film manages to do fine with the material they are given. Louis C.K. and Stonestreet manage to play off each other very well and are likeable in their performances as Max and Duke, which helps benefit the developing friendship between the dogs. Kevin Hart and Jenny Slate shine as the hyper actively psychotic Snowball and the fiercely determined Gidget, who stops at nothing to find Max and express her feelings for him.

The humor is hit or miss, ranging from being clever to other times juvenile and crude. This is best demonstrated in the animal personalities playing off stereotyped behaviors such as the dogs finding sausage hallucinogenic, or even defying them in the case of Snowball and his violent antics. The mix and match of different behaviors manages to make the animals enjoyable in their shenanigans as they exhibit more common animal behaviors while having the added of humor of talking as they do so.

On the other side of the coin, the biggest pitfall of the film lies with its over reliance on crude humor and slapstick. Several instances of the film revolve around the animals attacking each other or being hyperactive, which causes an excess of energy and eventually gets irritating. Additionally, there are more jokes revolving around animals and their bodily functions than adult would be comfortable with, which ends up making the humor fall flat and seem rather childish.

The Secret Life of Pets also suffers from the pitfall of not doing much to expand on the theme of talking animals that other films have not done in a meaningful manner.  While the animals do act like animals, this largely serves the purpose of just being the set up for jokes and the ability to speak is just an added gimmick. Additionally, not much is done to expand on the possibility of humans and animals interacting, as the animals are largely on their own for most of the film.

Finally, the plot of the film is rather basic and is nothing that will surprise the viewer, as the idea of two rivals becoming friends through a journey has been done by many animated and live-action films alike. Therefore, it just comes across as a repeat of what other films have done and feels rather stale with nothing new to offer besides some animal jokes. Not helping matters is that the film brings up a subplot revolving around abandoned pets seeking revenge on humans for neglecting them, but instead treats it as a side joke rather than turning it into a conflict that could flesh out the characters.

Most glaring of all, the film lacks character development for its animal stars with the exception of Max and Duke. The animals don’t get any real challenges to their character and remain pretty similar in personality throughout, lacking any sort of growth or change. Even Duke and Max’s developing friendship is fairly superficial, as it isn’t any more complicated than a typical enemies become friends type of development.

Overall, The Secret Life of Pets has some occasionally good jokes along with good voice actors and animation, but not much substance. Considering animated films have shown they are capable of much more than just being distractions for kids, it feels all the more disappointing. The film will kill some time for an hour and a half, but ultimately there are much better films to spend time watching instead.