Illumination Entertainment is to thank for such treasures as The Lorax and Despicable Me, but they are also to blame for Minions -the gibbering, sentient bananas that children love to quote and middle-aged Facebook users love to turn into memes- and so it’s safe to say The Secret Life of Pets had the potential for great cinema or persisting headaches. The studio’s latest feature’s first preview showcased a premise that pet owners don’t really know what their pets are up to (spoilers to cat owners: furniture is being ruined).
A film that could arguably go toe-to-toe with any recent Pixar or Disney releases…
The second teaser-trailer revealed the plot of the film. Max, who ends up dubbed little dog, lives with his owner Katie in New York. His perfect life is thrown into disarray when Katie brings home Duke, a massive dog Katie adopted from the pound. The two don’t get along, and hijinks ensue.
The Secret Life of Pets strikes the perfect balance in a kid’s movie. There are plenty of silly, over-the-top moments for the younger audiences to laugh at, and with enough humor and slapstick that cinema-going parents don’t doze off.
Kevin Hart plays Snowball- an unhinged rabbit, hell bent on making a stand against domestication, while Albert Brooks plays Tiberius, a pet red-tailed hawk who spends the duration of the film trying to not eat the rest of the cast. Their roles are witty one-liner machines, but the rest of the cast hold their own in the comedic stakes too. Max and Duke (played by Louis C.K. and Eric Stonestreet, respectively) were perfectly cast as Max and Duke, the two main characters, though that’s not to say that the other vocal talents in this film were outshone by them.
Watching Gidget and the ragtag team of other pets on their journey to save Max and Duke (after they are captured by animal control, then subsequently lost far from home,) while Max and Duke, forced into close proximity, slowly learn they may be able to live together after all, made for a film that could arguably go toe-to-toe with any recent Pixar or Disney releases, especially when this film could have easily been overshadowed by Zootopia’s release earlier this year.
Alternatively, it did start with a Minions short, so it’s difficult to say this film isn’t without its failings. Otherwise, the movie doesn’t feel like it should have ended sooner and it’s the stuff of an ideal summer family movie outing. Prepare to be pleasantly surprised.
By Phil Gorski
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