DIR: Chris Renaud, Yarrow Cheney • WRI: Ken Daurio, Brian Lynch, Cinco Paul • PRO: Christopher Meledandri • ED: Ken Schretzmann • MUS: Alexandre Desplat • DES: Eric Guillon
In order to enjoy this movie, my main recommendation is to be a dog lover. Dogs come off very well in The Secret Life of Pets. It makes no bones about it: indeed at one point we get a speech about how dogs are the best types of pets, and all other pets should pretty much just go home. Cats range from being slothful allies to hairless maniacs. Rabbits are raving lunatics. Canaries are cute but lack personality. Hawks are lonely and surprisingly easily led. Hamsters have poor directional skills. And fish are hard to integrate into a film about animals travelling across New York and are for this reason ignored. So watch this animated feature if you love dogs. Or possibly if you are a dog. For the rest of us (or at least for those of us over the age of twelve), The Secret Life of Pets might just feel suspiciously like adorable pro-dog propaganda with some disturbing violent undercurrents and excellent production values.
The Secret Life of Pets comes resplendent with plenty of big names. Comedian Louis C.K. stars as Max, a contented terrier whose perfect life is shattered when his beloved owner Katie (Ellie Kemper) brings home a huge, unruly rescue dog named Duke, played by Eric Stonestreet. Their constant bickering eventually leads them to lose their way on the streets of New York, where they fall in with the wrong crowd. Perhaps the most immediately recognisable voice is Kevin Hart as the cute but criminally insane owner-free, sewer-dwelling rabbit Snowball, the leader of a group of abandoned pets determined to start a new revolution by taking down all pet owners in New York. Fearful for what will happen if they admit they are content in their life as pets, Max and Duke agree to join Snowball’s army. Meanwhile Max’s neighbour Gidget, a Pomeranian played by Jenny Slate who is Max’s secret admirer (and for some unexplained reason the only female dog in a movie primarily about dogs), organises a rag-tag team of animals from the building to search for Max and Duke. Cue unlikely car chases and scenes out of Baby’s Day Out as the various groups of animals make their way through Manhattan.
Although on the whole The Secret Life of Pets is aimed at a younger audience, there are some moments which confuse exactly what tone director Chris Renaud and co-director Yarrow Cheney (both of Despicable Me fame) were aiming for. There is some genuinely violent imagery with the animal revolution story-line. At one point, the animals discuss using a blender to kill their owners, something which is perhaps a little disturbing for a kid’s movie. On the other hand, the small amount of jokes aimed at a more mature audience fall flat. The Secret Life of Pets doesn’t have much going for it humour-wise (or indeed story-wise) that hasn’t been done better in the Toy Story franchise and elsewhere.
Indeed, the real reason to watch The Secret Life of Pets is for the animation, with the beautifully sprawling vistas of Manhattan a wonderful reflection of the animals’ idealised version of the city as their home and centre of their universe. Several scenes also showcase the animation’s impressive depth of field. These include the opening scene exploring Brooklyn Bridge and Central Park from above to action scenes in which the animals navigate the Hudson River. The finer details are also impressive, with characters and objects having a real weight and textured look to them. The visuals are accompanied very well by the lively soundtrack of Alexandre Desplat and the songs are successfully integrated into the world of the film.
So in summation, dogs and visuals come off very well in The Secret Life of Pets. Despite a relatively brisk run time of ninety minutes the lack of innovation in the well-trod anthropomorphic story means that it drags at times. By the end, I suspect you will either want to a) adopt a rescue dog or b) drown any and all pets you have at home for fear of violent uprising. Both are reasonable responses.
G (See IFCO for details)
The Secret Life of Pets is released 24th June 2016