An all star comedy cast comes together for what was, unfortunately, one of the most disappointing movies of the summer. It’s also one that’s likely to make them a small mint at the box office.
Max (Louis C.K.) is a dog who is happily living with his friend/owner/soulmate, Katie (Ellie Kemper). They live in a big city apartment building with a lot of other pets an owners. At the beginning of the movie, there is a montage showing that the pets all engage in different activities during the day when their owners leave. However, most of Max’s day consists of talking to the other pets and waiting for Katie to come back home. One day, Katie brings home another dog named Duke (Eric Stonestreet). Max and Duke don’t get along at first. This is mostly due to Max being a jerk to Duke. Eventually, they’re combative ways cause them both to get lost. They lose their collars and are caught by animal control.
Before they are taken to the pound, the van is attacked by a pack of animals from the sewer. The animals are led by Snowball the Bunny (Kevin Hart), who is the murderous leader of a pack of animals who have been lost or discarded by humans. After telling Snowball that they killed their owner, Max and Duke are taken to the sewers. Before long, they are outed as human loving pets and the animals attack them. Max and Duke escape but end up killing one of the animals (in a very cartoon-y way) in the process. Because of this, Snowball vows revenge against the two dogs. Around the same time, Max’s friends at the apartment building are called together by Gidget (Jenny Slate), who’s in love with Max. She convinces the other pets to leave their respective homes and go in search of their friend. They seek help from some other animals in the city and go in search of the doggy duo.
After their escape, Max and Duke bond while inside a hotdog/sausage factory and Max tries to convince Duke to go back to his old home. They arrive only to find that Duke’s old owner has passed away. Around the same time, Snowball and his lackeys catch up to them. An enraged Duke ends up getting captured along with some of Snowball’s hench-animals. That forces Max and Snowball to work together to stop the animal control van before it gets back to the pound. Just as they catch up to the van, Snowball’s friends arrive to take revenge on Max. Gidget and pals also arrive to save them. Gidget takes out the sewer animals, while Max and Snowball save Duke from the van. Then, everyone pretty much lives happily ever after.
What did I think?
Every summer season there are a rash of movies that come out that are targeted at kids. It’s pretty normal for big name actors to attach themselves with these movies. There’s nothing wrong with that. Kid’s movies are a great way to get some steady income, put out family friendly entertainment, etc, etc. However, Illumination (the same people responsible for the Despicable Me and subsequent Minions franchise) is starting to develop a pattern of releasing movies like this that feel like they’re not up to par with other offerings in the same category. This is still a kid’s movie and, from what I’ve seen, it’s great at being a kid’s movie. Not being a kid, it’s really hard for me to evaluate it on that level. However, recent movies like Inside Out, Finding Dory and Zootopia (and many more before those) have succeeded at being more than just kid’s movies. Because of movies like that, I have come to expect kid’s movies to offer something a little more deep or meaty for the adults to chew on or, at least, recognize. This movie just didn’t pull that off for me.
The other place that the movie failed for me is with the way that they used their cast. The movies has some of the greatest comedians or comedic actors who are currently working. However, only two of them are really allowed to let their personalities show through. Those two would be Kevin Hart as Snowball and Jenny Slate as Gidget. I thought those two were the highlights of the movie because their characters felt like extensions of their public personas instead of just them reading a character that the studio created. That’s not to say that the other performances are bad, they just don’t stand out. I also think that’s why some of the jokes feel a little flat, because they feel like they’re coming off of a page instead of out of the personality of the characters.
I don’t really want to make it sound like I’m being completely negative about this movie. As I said, it’s a good kid’s movie and that’s all it really needed to be. However, I was expecting something more and I just didn’t get it.
The Secret Life of Pets (2016)
- Kevin Hart's Snowball the Bunny character steals the movie
- The visuals and Looney Tunes-style comedy, makes this a great movie to sit the kids in front of for a couple of hours
- The story is fairly rote
- Not a lot of effective multi-level humor
- The movie has a lot of big name comedians but uses very little of their signature comedic stylings.