I want you to meet my dog, his name is Titus. He is a jack russell terrier and I usually have to duck when I come home because he throws his whole body weight at me. Then he spins in circles with excitement. He loves me so much. He looks exactly like Max (Louie C.K.). I also have a street hardened rescue dog named Gus. He does some flagrant foul, bite the hand that feeds, Soprano style in-house pees. Sometimes he maintains eye contact while doing so. I am talking blatant poops on the kitchen floor while you’re running late for work. A Montague and a Capulet, two opposites of the dog world, that is my life of pets.
I related to this movie a lot, or at least to some degree. But it wasn’t really a secret life of pets. See movies such as Toy Story did what this film was trying to do, but kept it limited to the real world. That’s part of the magic sauce of Pixar that other animation studios don’t have. I wrote about this in my review of ‘Finding Dory.’ But what makes movies like ‘Toy Story’ special, is that it is about what happens when humans aren’t around; but those actions have results and consequences in both worlds. A good example of this is when Woody rips his arm in the first Toy Story, it happens during toy world time; but they notice it in the human (real) world. If this movie was to succeed on grander terms, the humans would have noticed (or at least smelled) all the different places that their dog has been. If a dog has been through the pound, the sewer, and a sausage factory- it would smell god awful. They would also notice when animals are (again) driving vehicles.
The film has a good few moments of this magic, with a very strong start. The beginning showed how the animals behaved at home. The owners leave, then life begins.They do animal things like fight for dominance on a bed, fight over food, much of this done with charming comedic effect. Cue System of a Down, and most of the good stuff you’ve seen in the trailers. The Secret Life of Pets is a cute idea that, in my opinion, would be great for several animated shorts; but lags as a full length film. This YouTube series handles the idea way better. There is a crucial moment when the film breaks from it’s magic spell and uniqueness and devolves into just another movie with talking animals. It’s not like this is an original premise or uncharted territory - do we really need another conventional movie with talking animals? We have the excellent ‘Zootopia,’ ‘Finding Nemo,’ ‘Babe,’ and before all of that ‘101 Dalmatians’ and ‘Bambi.’
The overall problem with animation studios like Dreamworks and Illumination Entertainment is this need of money and success over innovation. Pixar wins, not only at the box office, but also at the Academy Awards; because they are pushing the technical limits and story telling of the animation medium. Don’t get me wrong, Kevin Hart and Louie C.K. are great voice actor talents, along with Steve Carell or whatever celebrity they cast. The problem isn’t the style of animation or the talent of cast. How many Minion movies can they make, how many different takes on ‘Ice Age’ can there be? These studios have a couple hits like ‘Shrek’ or ‘Despicable Me’ and then proceed to bleed every last dollar out of the idea with sequel after unwanted sequel. You know that there will be a sequel to ‘The Secret Life of Pets,’ however unoriginal, because it seemed like a hit before it even came into theaters.
Overall, The Secret Life of Pets is not a bad movie. To say the least, it’s lighthearted and fun. I laughed at parts, I was bored out of my mind by others. The talking animals schtick is as old as time, but the movie is enjoyable enough. If you are a big animation buff like me, you will yawn at story elements they lifted from Toy Story, Futurama, or Chicken Little. However, The Secret Life of Pets is similar to owning a pet in real life: you still enjoy it and think it’s cute, even if it craps the bed sometimes.