The Secret Life of Pets (Cheney & Renaud; 2016)

In The Secret Life of Pets the studio that produced Despicable Me, and hasn’t stopped shoving our noses into those annoying yellow things ever since, brings us a very tame, even by kids movie standards, film that never quite fetches our interest.  Our story opens with Max (Louis C.K.), a dog so devoted to his owner Katie (Elle Kemper) that all he does all day long when she’s at work is sit at the door waiting for her while the other neighborhood pets swing by and talk to him.  One day, Katie returns home with a dog she rescued from the pound named Duke (Eric Stonestreet) and Max’s life as he knows it is upended.

If it seems like this story sounds familiar so far, make no bones about it, it does, and it only gets more and more familiar from there.  This film does so much to parrot a film from rival studio Pixar about a pair of toys who don’t like each other at first but grow to become best friends that it’s practically plagiarism.  But, unlike that film which had original characters, fantastic voice acting, and ground breaking visuals, in The Secret Life of Pets most everything is cliched, obvious, and insipid.

When you look at a voice cast that has such seasoned comedians in it as  Elle Kemper, Louis C.K. and Dana Carvey, as well as veteran actor Albert Brooks you would think that the film could have a little more bite.  But the only bits in this movie that may be a little too much for kids are action pieces that have nothing to do with dialogue or voice acting of any sort.  It’s a film for kids sure, but when you have Kevin Hart as one of your stars, throw us a bone here and give us at least some jokes that someone over the age of 8 may be able to enjoy.

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Venomous snakes as large as a truck are terrifying, and also really, really out of place.

I do admit though, that reviewing The Secret Life of Pets as it relates to an adult audience is barking up the wrong tree.  This is a movie made for kids, and it will be enjoyed by young children who haven’t been exposed to the jokes,  characters,  and plot so often we see them as moth-eaten.  To someone who can view the goings on here with fresh eyes there’s a lot to like, as while nothing is done to interest adult viewers, it also has to be said that Illumination also never really drops the ball when it comes to telling the story from a technical standpoint.  The voice acting is good, even if never outstanding, the visuals are fun to look at, even if never gorgeous, and the script, well the script actually is just bad and only small children will not have heard every line within more times than they can count.

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Even our facial expressions are overdone.

I will tell families with small children to go see The Secret Life of Pets.  You are the target audience for this film, and I believe children aged 6-10 will really enjoy this one, and despite my rantings there are one or two scenes here which can capture the attention of the adults.  But, only one or two scenes is not enough for those of us who don’t have young children to bring along.  Illumination, you have been living high off the hog on Despicable Me for too long and your complacency has descended into mediocrity, and your attempt at wagging the dog to make us think you are bringing us anything new has been found out.

Rating:  4.6 out of 10

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