Should you watch The Secret Life of Pets?

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That I was genuinely excited before attending The Secret Life of Pets screening says a lot about the current, high quality state of children’s animation.

These are not just kids’ movies: these are light-hearted comedies for all ages to enjoy. Created by the studio responsible for the highly successful Despicable Me, I held high expectations.

The Secret Life of Pets tells the story of Max (Louis CK), a very domesticated terrier, whose tranquil life is thrown into disarray when his master brings home a new dog, Duke. What begins as a jealous tiff between the two canines quickly deteriorates into a series of extravagant events: fighting an entire army of underground sewer pets; frolicking in a sausage factory; car races across the Brooklyn bridge.

Puppy protagonist, Max. Source: Universal Pictures.
Puppy protagonist, Max. Source: Universal Pictures.

Enlisting the help of numerous other animals along the way, the heart of the story clearly lies in one premise: What do pets get up to when their owners aren’t home?

If you think this sounds familiar, you’re probably thinking about Toy Story. With obvious differences in plot, The Secret Life of Pets has loosely replaced toys with animals, while still maintaining the core question in what they get up to behind our backs.

If anything, I’m surprised a movie like this didn’t happen sooner. It’s one of those films that you sit through and wonder how the hell it hasn’t this already been made. So if you’ve been labouring over detailed plans to create a Pet Story, I’m really sorry to inform you, but you’ve just missed the chance. Please don’t shoot the messenger.

Consistent with its not wholly original premise, the film does not achieve anything groundbreaking.

It adheres to the tried and tested (and successful) Pixar formula, where audiences of all ages can enjoy a few laughs and even a few tears as they watch their loveable hero reach his or her dream.

But while it may not be revolutionary, that certainly doesn’t mean it isn’t enjoyable. As should be expected, the movie is sprinkled with humour, much of which causing me to laugh out loud – or as the hipster interweb youth refer to it, LOL.

As in many of the great animated movies, the non-human creatures are transformed into believable, caricatured, stereotypes.

We meet a bulldog gangster, a wise old dog, an aloof cat. There is also the evil genius bunny rabbit, which, since the release of Hoodwinked, appears to be a staple character in these types of movies.

The construction of these characters prompts laughter without the need for blatant jokes. Their interactions are comical and ludicrous, and they each speak and move with a closeness to how we image their animal inspirations would.

Just another evil bunny. Source: Universal Pictures.
Just another evil bunny. Source: Universal Pictures.

There are however, definitely funnier films.

There are also many better films. While this is by no means poor, it certainly falls short of being labeled very good.

Often, it felt like particular moments and stories could have been teased a little further. When Duke attempts to reunite with his lost owner, the entire process takes no longer than five minutes. Despite only being a subplot, it is these minor, heart-tugging anecdotes that make so many Pixar and Disney films special.

It is worth commending the animation.

Sure in 2016 we have come to expect the very best in CGI, but there are many ways to do it, and less ways to do it right. In The Secret Life of Pets, we watch cuddly, fluffy dogs and cats, as well as ugly, slimy crocodiles and snakes. The animals look realistic, but not realistic to the extent that we lose the warmth of the animation. The creators have certainly achieved the perfect balance.

At the film’s close, it’s very difficult to keep a childish grin from your face. It is an ending that departs a simple but lovely message: We love our pets; our pets love us.

For the most part, the movie achieves its purpose. This is sweet, easy and enjoyable viewing. It may not be outstanding, but does it need to be?

My Rating: 7/10

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