We just love pets. We all claim to have a favourite animal as a pet. We love talking about our pets and we always find ourselves consumed in conversation about them at work or when you are out for a few drinks with your friends or when you are having a cuppa with the family. We always discuss what our pets do, why they do it and when they do it.
It came as no surprise that enthusiasm grew for The Secret Life Of Pets because we all adore a cute animal. Humans are scarily weak when it comes to cute. One look at the trailer and I instinctively wanted to watch it. I did not parade around the streets declaring it, but I kept it on my radar – despite the overshadowing Finding Dory.
The Secret Life Of Pets, or TSLOP, is essentially as the title suggests – once the owner leaves the room what the hell do our pets get up to? The film opens up with Max the spoilt terrier in Manhattan who dotes on his owner until one day a huge sloppy mongrel named Duke becomes the newest member of the family. Their rivalry lands them both in trouble and in the wrong group as they end up with a white bunny named Snowball who has gathered an animal army to seek revenge for lost pets.
TSLOP starts at a quick pace allowing you no time to think whilst you watch one pet gag after another. The start is utterly entertaining as you are quickly but effectively introduced to all the characters. Director Chris Renaud ensures that any human aspect is limited in the narrative, meaning you barely witness any dialogue from any people. The focus is purely on the pets, and the concept works as it allows you to easily suspend your belief and throw yourself into the story.
The story itself occupies you enough, however, I do feel at times it overrides the film’s purpose. The trailers and the start of the film get your brain excited to witness funny pet scenes, so when the actual storyline starts you do get that small feeling of “oh”. This in no way detriments the story, however, little was made of the actual narrative before release, so you have no idea what you are throwing yourself into.
With the storyline overbearing the funny pet gags you could conclude that the film itself is funny, but not hilarious. I do think Illumination’s intention was to sell this as “laugh out loud”, but in the end, it produces more chuckles than fits. The good news is that fortunately, the characters are very interesting. The most obvious point to make is that your favourite character will probably be based on your pet bias. My favourite character was the main one, Max, who gives off this cool persona but trembles at danger.
The voice casting is impressive to say the least. All the voices matched the animated character and I did not get the feeling that any were over-egged. My main concern was Snowball, who is voiced by Kevin Hart. I love the guy as a comedian, as a stand-up, but in films, I cannot stand his persona. The white bunny works because as a character he is energetic, passionate and moves comically. I think this is the first film that I have enjoyed Kevin Hart’s presence, which could be seen as offensive, as it’s only his voice.
The most satisfying aspect of this film is the humorous way the animals are represented. It’s the key to the film’s success and the audience’s enjoyment. The animation team has managed to capture stereotypical mannerisms of pets and make it work on-screen. For instance, you see a dog moving his leg as if they were running whilst fast asleep and you recognise that as a common trait. You and the audience collectively understand the stereotypes of animals that this film brings, and with joy and laughter we all appreciate it together. I cannot recollect any other film that captures this as well as TSLOP and it is obvious that they have worked incredibly hard to make it a selling point. It serves the audience that uncanny valley of “oh my pet does that” and converted it into something funny and appropriate for the animation.
It’s worth the watch. It’s nowhere near the next Toy Story, and I do get the feeling that it will not surpass Finding Dory, however, The Secret Life of Pets is a fun loving film about…well… pets which can talk. And we all love a good pet, right? So regardless if it does not meet your expectations you will enjoy it for your love of animals alone.
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