- by Jeff Beck
The Secret Life of Pets: Great Animation, but Lacking in Originality (Blu-ray)
It’s a question that all pet owners have asked themselves at one time or another: What exactly do our pets do when we’re not at home? Chances are that the answer to the question is not particularly exciting, for the obvious answers would appear to be eat, roam around the house, and, of course, sleep. But what if they did much more than we ever thought they did? This is the kind of scenario that director Chris Renaud and co. have imagined for their new animated film, “The Secret Life of Pets,” a film that playfully speculates on what our pets really do when the humans aren’t around (that is, aside from the countless hours of sleeping).
Max (Voice of Louis C.K.) is your typical dog. He was adopted by Katie (Voice of Ellie Kemper) when he was a puppy and has several friends that include Gidget (Voice of Jenny Slate), a dog who lives across the street, and Chloe (Voice of Lake Bell), a cat who lives in his building. One day, Katie brings home another dog, Duke (Voice of Eric Stonestreet), which causes Max to panic. He immediately takes a strong disliking to the new dog and plots how he can get rid of him, though he quickly finds that all he has to do is show him who’s boss. This works for a little while, but when Duke tries to get rid of Max, the two find themselves thrown into an adventure that neither of them planned on. Meanwhile, Gidget, who has a strong attraction to Max, takes it upon herself to find him when he goes missing, sending her on a big adventure of her own.
“The Secret Life of Pets” is a sweet-natured kids film that seeks to entertain with its vibrant animation, talented vocal cast, and semi-intriguing attempt to build a story around a question that pet owners may find intriguing, but it’s in this last area where things are not entirely up to snuff. There’s nothing particularly wrong with this idea, but in execution, there just doesn’t really seem to be a whole lot to explore, forcing the writers to fall back on the old story of pets trying to get home while evading animal control workers.
As for the animation, it really is quite stunning. The colors here appear to glow throughout the entire film, providing a bright and energetic life for the images. It may be a little more cartoony than what we’re used to seeing from other studios, but this is a film that is mainly aimed at little kids (as opposed to Pixar films that are aimed to all groups), so the animation fits in perfectly for the audience it was made for. Regardless, it still looks great and at least provides a bountiful palette for the eyes.
Credit must also be given to the exceptional cast that includes such talents as Louis C.K., Jenny Slate, Eric Stonestreet, Albert Brooks, Lake Bell, Dana Carvey, Steve Coogan, Ellie Kemper, and Bobby Moynihan. Everyone inhabits their character wonderfully, giving them unique personalities, and providing a lot of the film’s humor in the process. This was another fun one to play “Guess the Voice” with, particularly because a lot of the actors do a great job of disguising their normal speaking voice as they become their character, making it something of a surprise when the credits began to roll at the end.
Indeed, there are things to like about “The Secret Life of Pets,” but this only makes you wish that a little more thought had gone into the adventures that the writers send these characters on. It’s a pleasant enough film, and little kids might like it simply for the fact that it’s bright, colorful, and features talking animals, but the parents in the crowd are likely to be checking their watches as it goes about its brief 80-minute runtime. Again, this wasn’t a bad idea. It just needed a little more originality to give it the extra something it required to be effective.
“The Secret Life of Pets” comes to Blu-ray in a 1.85:1, 1080p High Definition transfer of excellent quality. The image is bright and clear throughout the entire presentation, doing a great job of showing off the film’s bright and lush colors. The Atmos Dolby True HD Audio is likewise outstanding, giving you all of the vocal performances, score, and sound effects in great quality. Overall, the film has received top-notch treatment, leaving you with an unbeatable experience.
The Humans That Brought You Pets (9 Minutes): A series of interviews with the makers of the film, including the director and producers.
Animals Can Talk: Meet the Actors (4 Minutes): A montage of interviews with the cast that includes behind the scenes footage of them recording their parts.
All About the Pets (6 Minutes): A look at some animals with an expert and a couple of cast members.
Hairstylist to the Dogs (4 Minutes): A brief featurette about dog grooming.
How to Make an Animated Film (4 Minutes): A brief look at the making of the film.
Anatomy of a Scene (5 Minutes): A featurette that explores all of the hard work that went into a single scene of the film.
The Best of Snowball (1 Minute): A quick montage of scenes featuring Snowball.
Norman TV (4 Minutes), Weenie (4 Minutes), and Mower Minions (4 Minutes): Three short cartoons that aren’t particularly worth watching.
The Making of the Mini-Movies (7 Minutes): Exactly as the title says, this is a look behind the scenes at the making of the shorts.
“Lovely Day” Lyrics Video
“The Secret Life of Pets” features dazzling animation and a top-notch vocal cast, but when it comes to the film’s familiar story, it leaves you desiring a little more from its intriguing premise. It’s not a terrible animated film by any means, and chances are it will entertain little kids just fine with its vibrant colors and amusing talking animals, but when it comes to everyone else, they’ll likely find it just a little lacking.
Available on Blu-ray and DVD starting tomorrow.
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