Film #264: The Secret Life of Pets (2016)

secretlifedirector: Chris Renaud
language: English
length: 87 minutes
watched on: 2 Feb 2017

After Sing Street, this was the second of three DVDs I borrowed from Tsutaya. (The third was another Xavier Dolan film, but it turned out to be in a very thick Quebec dialect and had no English subtitles, so I gave up on it … for now anyway.)

I wasn’t so hotly anticipating this film, but it was out last year too, and I hadn’t seen it in the cinema. It’s a kids’ film, or something that’s marketed as “family”. It’s by the same people as Despicable Me and the Minions films, which I’ve tried to avoid. Despicable Me was intelligent and funny, but the minions have blown up to something much larger than they have the right to be… and I’m tired of seeing them. I was a little worried when I saw a minion on screen in the first few seconds of the movie, but it was just the company’s logo.

The story of the movie is the same as Toy Story, but with animals instead of toys – the idea being that animals have their own conversations and go on adventures when their humans are out at work or whatever. Louis C.K. plays the main character Max, who loves his owner – but one day she comes home with a new, much bigger dog, who tries to impose himself. But through a series of unlikely events they get separated from their dogwalker in the park, and get lost. They’re found by a group of homeless pets that hate humans. Shenanigans ensue.

To sum up the movie, unlike Pixar, it doesn’t have as much aimed at adults. It has a definite kiddy atmosphere about it. I’m certainly not the target audience. But it has enough for adults to laugh at if they take their kids to it – there’s a joke from Some Like It Hot, for example, that had me in stitches. There is enough physical and slapstick humour in it that I found funny, but there’s also a definite divide between the kids’ jokes and the adults’ jokes, and I think the best of this kind of movie just has one kind of joke that everyone can laugh at.

The animal characters are really well-observed, too – except for parts where they’re talking and so on, they generally act like real animals. The way of moving and reacting is spot-on. I noticed when watching a couple of the DVD extras that many of the actors and producers said their main motivation for wanting to make the movie was because they were pet owners themselves, which I can’t quite relate to, but I have interacted with enough animals in my life to know it’s accurate. But if I compare this to something like Finding Nemo or its sequel, the latter is much more effortlessly comedic. Just to spoil something a bit, though – Finding Dory and this movie both have scenes where animals drive trucks, and I kind of want to know where that trope came from. That’s a part where I generally stop suspending my disbelief.

I must admit, too, that I didn’t feel much emotion from the movie. It’s a shame, but again I think that Pixar can do that better. And there’s one other thing that bothered me – of the two “villain” characters I can think of, one had a British accent, and the other was an African-American actor (the bunny in the picture above). Seems fishy to me…

Given all the above, though, I was suitably impressed by the movie. I wasn’t expecting much, I must admit, and I don’t think it’s going to be known as a classic, but the movie managed to deliver on my expectations and much more. It’s pretty funny in spite of its flaws.

Anyone else seen it?

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