Saturday, September 03, 2016

Illumination Entertainment Has Another Franchise in the Making with 'The Secret Life of Pets'

The Secret Life of Pets depicts the quirky daily activities and behaviors of a community of domesticated animals living in a Manhattan block while their owners are away.  The plot centers on a Jack Russell terrier named Max (Louis C.K.) who loves and is loved – and spoiled – by his owner, Katie (Ellie Kemper), very much.  However, his snug and pleasant status quo is threatened by the arrival of Duke (Eric Stonestreet), a big and shaggy mongrel that Katie has recently adopted from the pound.  The two dogs begin to feud with each other, and in one of their scuffles while going for a walk outside, they lose their collars and get captured by Animal Control.  On the way to the pound, they are freed by a vengeful bunny named Snowball (Kevin Hart), but in exchange, they have to join his sewer-dwelling, human-hating gang of abandoned pets.  Meanwhile, Max’s friends – white Pomeranian Gidget (Jenny Slate), tabby cat Chloe (Lake Bell), pug Mel (Bobby Moynihan), dachshund Buddy (Hannibal Buress), budgerigar Sweetpea (Tara Strong), and guinea pig Norman (Chris Renaud) – enlist the help of a red-tailed hawk named Tiberius (Albert Brooks) and an elderly basset hound named Pops (Dana Carvey) to roam around Manhattan and rescue Max.

 The hilarious teaser trailer – the one that featured a sequence at the beginning of the movie, wherein it’s shown what the pets are doing after their owners left for work, which includes Buddy using a mixer as a massager/scratcher, Chloe struggling with the temptation of the refrigerator, Sweetpea pretending to be a fighter plane, and, the best one, a poodle who pretends to be sophisticated when his owner is around, listening to classical music, but becomes a metal-loving headbanger as soon as he leaves – was what drew me to this movie.  
The movie also has this cool GoPro tie-in trailer; a blatant product placement but still adorable.
But most of the charm of its premise, as presented by its trailer, only works as best as a sketch.  To be a full-length movie, it requires a plot.  And its plot doesn’t match the charm of the aforementioned sketch/trailer.  Actually, the storyline felt like a Toy Story knockoff in its structure, but is amusing enough to be entertaining.

Yes, The Secret Life of Pets is sufficiently entertaining.  It’s well-animated.  It has great voice acting from its talented cast.  And it has some solid comedy going for it, with emphasis on amusing absurdity and well-timed slapstick.  I laughed a couple of times.  However, in my opinion, it’s not exactly clever in execution.  It also has some noticeable misfires that feel too cringe-worthily and gratuitously “savage” or dumb – especially that scene where Max and Buddy have a sausage-themed acid trip.
Overall tough, its flaws aren’t off-putting enough to hinder it from being a likable and pleasing diversion for the entire family. The result: making over $720 million in box office revenue out of a $75 million budget. And with it, Illumination Entertainment likely has the start of a non-Despicable Me franchise in their hands.

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