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THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS (USA 2016) ****
Directed by Chris Renaud, Yarrow Cheney
Starring: Louis C.K., Eric Stonestreet, Kevin Hart, Jenny Slate, Ellie Kemper, Albert Brooks, Lake Bell, Dana Carvey
Review by Gilbert Seah
What do pets do after their human owners leave for work? The imagination of the writers Cinco Paul , Ken Daurio and Brian Lynch entertain audiences with the notion. The story follows the adventures of one male pup, Max (Louis C.K.) who leads a sheltered and spoilt life with his owner Katie (Ellie Kemper). Max hangs out with other pets like Chloe (Lake Bell), Mel (Bobby Moynihan), Buddy (Hannibal Buress), and Sweet Pea (Tara Strong). Trouble soon arrives in paradise. One day, Katie adopts a giant dog called Duke (Eric Stonestreet) who Max does not get along with. But when they get lost and encounter both animal control and an evil rabbit, Snowball (Kevin Hart), they are forced to join forces. Animated features usually have a story involving saving the world like the DESPICABLE ME movies. This one has the pets trying to return home.
It is half way through watching THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS that it suddenly dawns that a good chunk of the storyline is derived from Pixar’s TOY STORY. Just as Andy has his favourite toy, cowboy Woody, Katie has her favourite pet dog Max. Just as Woody finds his toy universe shaken by the arrival of new toy Buzz Lighyear, Max finds his comfortable world undermined by the rival dog, Duke that Katie brings home. But that is not all. The toys speak and move when the humans are away just as the pets speak in their secret life of their own. But the filmmakers are clever enough not to call their film PET STORY and to take the storyline on step further. The toys can never match the antics of pets. The fact that millions watch cat antics on youtube is proof of the fact.
The cuteness factor is high and the cuteness can get a bit annoying at times. The trailer displayed lots of it. But most of what is seen in the trailer is finished off in the film’s first 10 minutes. But the cuteness antics are occasionally very funny and work well, when used more sparingly.
The voice characterizations are lively, working well with the creatures created. Standing out is Steve Coogan’s Oz, the alley cat and Kevin Hart’s Snowball. The name Snowball was likely taken from the name of the pig that led the revolt against human beings in George Orwell’s ANIMAL FARM.
The music by Oscar winning French composer Alexandre Desplat (THE GRAND BUDAPeST HOTEL) is a big bonus. Two catchy songs “Welcome to New York” by Taylor Swift and “Lovely Day” by Bill Withers can heard at the beginning and end of the film respectively.
As the film is made by Illumination Enetertainment, responsible for the DESPICABLE ME films, the studio is quick to remind audiences of the fact. A Minion animated short Minions is featured before the film. The Pharrell Williams Oscar winning song “Happy” is heard as a cameo song on the radio of a cab that passes by the pets. One of the pets wears a Minion outfit to a costume party. But one of the funniest sequences has Duke and Max in heaven in a sausage factory where the hundreds of sausages have faces, all the animated sausages looking like orange Minions.
One might compare and the animation of THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS to Disney’s Pixar films. Still SECRET LIFE has enough merits for it to stand on its own as excellent family entertainment and fun. If SECRET LIFE spins out a few sequels, no one will complain.
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