By Jack Dignan
If, like myself, you are a pet owner (or even a pet appreciator), there's one question you undoubtably have on your mind. What does my pet do when I'm not home? Do they just sit and wait for me to get back? Do they mope around the house all day? Do they invite all their animal friends over and party? We just don't know. The fine folks over at Illumination sat down and thought about this looming question, and from it came a movie idea. A movie idea that revolves around the adventures of everyday pets while we're not at home, and after over a years worth of advertising (seriously...), the film is finally hitting Australian cinemas this Thursday, and it's a blast.
The Secret Life of Pets follows the story of Max (Louis C.K.), a loveable dog who just wants to spend time with his owner, Katie (Ellie Kemper). His life is perfect, except for one day when Katie, much to Max's disapproval, adopts a second dog from the pound, Duke (Eric Stonestreet). The two don't see eye to eye, and after a series of mishaps, they end up lost in the city together, having to find their way back home in an area they don't know how to navigate. Max's neighbour, and secret admirer, Gidget (Jenny Slate), decides to put out a search party for Max, that includes a variety of different local animals that Max is friends with.
I am an animal lover, it's as simple as that. I love animals, and as a matter of fact, I even own two dogs. The Secret Life of Pets has to be, without a doubt, one of the cutest goddamn movies I have seen in my entire life. I've seen a lot of adorable movies, more recently that came in the form of Finding Dory although there are plenty of other options, and this film is just heart meltingly adorable. Putting together a combination of the world's cutest pets, ranging from a really fat cat to a pug to an evil psychotic bunny played by Kevin Hart, there's just too much cute to handle.
The idea of pets having secret social lives behind their owner's backs is a really fun concept to play with, and leads to a handful of scenarios such as the ones depicted in the trailers. The trailer montage is, essentially, a shortened version of the montage in the film, and there's a lot of fun to be had with simply exploring the day to day activities of these animals. There's so much fun and inventive ideas presented, and there were moments that had me laughing pretty hard. From a cat that hates everyone to a rodent that just can't find its way home, the characters displayed are hilariously accurate, and I loved each and every one of them.
The animation, as well, is of a rather high quality, showcasing these animals in the single greatest way they could. It's splendid animation, perhaps even a step above the studios previous works on the Despicable Me and Minions movies, and while it won't be nearly as profitable as those films are, I do see The Secret Life of Pets becoming a franchise I enjoy even more than the Despicable Me franchise, which, in my opinion, is a mixed bag of movies. There's a lot to play around with given the premise of this film, and there's still room for plenty more to be discovered.
While the premise is amazing, the storyline itself does feel rather generic. It's essentially Toy Story, but with animals, and sure, the storyline presented in Toy Story has been replicated in other films, but with The Secret Life of Pets it just feels noticeably similar. With a few of the other knock offs, it doesn't always hit you when you're watching it, but with The Secret Life of Pets, it does. Don't get me wrong, it doesn't 100% follow the structure of Toy Story, and some of the best moments are when it deviates and does its own original thing, but the similarities are undeniably there.
However, it doesn't really become all that big of a deal as the film is harmless and extremely likeable, and have I mentioned yet how cute this movie is? Because it's pretty goddamn cute. It's a film that will insult literally nobody, and it's a joy to watch unfold, especially thanks to the talented cast that provide excellent voice work, as well as its emotional core. Not every joke works, and I do think the year long advertising did beat a few of the jokes to death, but the stuff that does is golden, and there are some moments throughout that had me absolutely shocked by just how effective the humour was. It's a really fun time at the movies for the entire family.
To sum up, The Secret Life of Pets is a familiar, but harmless journey that's saved by its creative concept, talent voice cast, splendid animation, hilarious moments and emotional core. It never reaches its full potential, but with a sequel confirmed to be on the way, there's room for so much more, and I can't wait. I'd be happy to watch ten different sequels.
3 1/2 Stars