As a person who posted a photo of one of my cats watching the Beethoven movies on July 4th, and as a movie nerd, it’s fair to say a film like The Secret Life of Pets is aimed at me. After a quick introduction of the lead pooch Max (Louis C.K.), we get into the meat of what the film advertises to be; your beloved animals doing goofy stuff around the house while you work. A bird pretends to be a jet darting between canyons. A poodle rocks out to System of a Down. A cat acts like an asshole.
Then the plot starts and we are reminded that the animation studio Illumination is great at small gags and lackluster at the whole storytelling gig. After the rather excellent Despicable Me, these folks have given us that movie’s so-so sequel and occasionally funny, more often mundane spin-off Minions. As in those films, The Secret Life of Pets lives in a weird world of ” It’s just for kids” laziness and oddly violent, cruel behavior. The latter is a staple of cartoons, with Bugs Bunny regularly causing multiple people to shoot one another with a rifle, or in frequent circumstances, shoot themselves with that same weapon. This is a long way of saying the actions of Pets aren’t troublesome because of their inclusion but tone. The juxtaposition and pace of cute scenes, sad ones and threats of murder are so quick and peculiar Baz Luhrmann would scratch his head.
Worse though, is how boring it feels. The plot is a basic retelling of Toy Story, where the popular kid, in that case Woody and here Max, is separated by his pals while feuding with the newbie, a giant fluffy behemoth named Duke (Eric Stonesteet) standing in for Buzz Lightyear. Lost in The Big Apple, our pair must rely on the kindess of strangers while also attempting to survive the cruelty and craziness of the other strangers. Said cruelty is led by a vengeful bunny (Kevin Hart), out to kill all humans with the world’s other abandoned pets at his side. This all comes across as a superfluous story that is necessary for the gags to bounce off, yet takes up so much of the running time that it manages to detract from the whole.
The only good that arrives after the inital cuteness, which is truly just the trailer in action, is the rise of Gidget, a ball of white cotton-candy with legs that just so happens to love Max. Dainty in movement and naive in the ways of the city beyond her windows, Gidget grows in the expected ways but at least seems to be having fun while doing as such. Her interrogation of one stray cat, whom to a kitten are presented as society’s pricks, gets the one big laugh in the back-half of the picture.
And I know what many of you are thinking. It’s for the childrens! The little ones! Hey Moms. Dads. You worked hard for that cash. Don’t waste it. Just show the moppets the trailer for 90 minutes if they get grumpy. Trust me, it’s cheaper and better.