With its pretty colours, type-based characters and undemanding sense of humour, The Secret Life of Pets is primarily geared towards kids. Set in New York, the film portrays the urban life of a number of domesticated animals and follows them venture out of their sheltered homes without their owners for the first time. The film paints a colourful idyllic picture of the city which seems to be, aside from the threat of stray animals or resentful abandoned pets, safe and crime-free. The furry apartment dwellers vary from dogs to cats and include hamsters and birds, all of whom are loyal and dependent on their owners, though they show it to varying degrees (Plot twist – the dogs are super affectionate and the cats tend to be stand-offish…). Our cast includes Max the dog (Louis C.K.), Chloe the cat (Lake Bell), Mel the pug (Bobby Moynihan), Buddy the dachshund (Hannibal Buress), and Gidget (Jenny Slate), a white Pomeranian.
Our lead is Max, who becomes distraught when his owner Katie (Ellie Kemper) brings home a new dog from the pound named Duke (Eric Stonestreet). Big, hairy and messy, Max is disgusted by Duke and jealous that he will have to share Katie’s attention. The two dogs develop a rivalry and when they are fighting one day while out on a walk, they become lost. The pair then accidentally gets recruited into the ‘Flushed Pets’, a gang of abandoned pets that include reptiles and a pig, who are led by a demented, furious bunny named Snowball (Kevin Hart). Thus it is up to Max’s friends to save the day.
Much of the film’s humour is derived from seeing the different characters indulge in weird (all too familiar and ‘human’ to us!) habits when alone in their apartments. They eat to their heart’s content, blast rock music, watch TV, throw parties, and more. Overall, its light content and bright, shiny animation should entertain children and their parents for its running-length. At the same time, there is nothing enduring in its story or memorable about the characters. It relies on the natural sentiment that people will feel for their own pets as they see them come to life on screen (‘LOL! My dog ALSO has a short attention span!’) and invests little by way of original or intuitive characterisation.
Mimicking Disney and Pixar’s habit of screening shorts ahead of their features, Illumination fans should also be happy to hear there is a Minions short ahead of The Secret Life of Pets. Here we see the one/two-eyed yellow dungaree-wearing creatures start a gardening business with catastrophic results. It is good fun if you like the Minions, though others (myself included) may have grown cynical of them following their dreadfully mediocre stand-alone film alongside the plainly over-indulgent marketing of them in every product known to man…
Speaking of Disney shorts, one can’t help but be reminded of Feast as they watch The Secret Life of Pets. In its mere seven minute running time compared to the feature length of The Secret Life of Pets, Feast accomplishes a more visually interesting (its combined 3D hand-drawn/computer-animated animation style really compliments the story) and far more moving ode to pets and their owners.