The Secret Life of Pets

Illumination Entertainment is very hit and miss when it comes to their animated films. They made a strong debut with Despicable Me and its sequel, but the studio’s other films haven’t exactly fared all that well with audiences. While beautifully animated, they lack an engaging story that comes across as lackluster when compared to the likes of Pixar or Walt Disney Animation Studios. The Secret Life of Pets is a step up over their last year’s disappointment that was Minions, but it still shows that the studio has a ways to go in terms of storytelling quality.


Have you ever wondered what your pets do when you leave for the day? The Secret Life of Pets provides a glimpse into the daily musings of a terrier named Max (Louis C.K.) who lives a comfortable life with his owner, Katie (Ellie Kemper), in New York City. That all changes when Katie decides to introduce a new canine member into the family, a massive shaggy dog named Duke (Eric Stonestreet). The two’s animosity towards each other leads them to getting lost in the city without their collars, which results in them being chased by Animal Control. In their attempts to get back home, Max and Duke cross paths with a group of former pets who left their humans for a free life in the sewers led by the adorable yet hostile bunny Snowball (Kevin Hart). All Max and Duke want to do is get home, but their newfound experience in the streets isn’t doing them any favors.


The Secret Life of Pets gives a gorgeous view of the world from the perspective our pets. The dogs (and cats, and birds, and all other creatures) are all great and have wonderful personalities. Gidget (Jenny Slate) is a hyped up Pomeranian with a crush on Max. Chloe (Lake Bell) is lazy cat who thinks she’s better than all the dogs out there. Mel (Bobby Moynihan) is a pug who loves chasing squirrels. Sure, all the animals are essentially nothing more than just larger-than-life stereotypes of pets, but it’s at least entertaining to watch them do their thing.


The novelty wears off, though, just as quickly as Minions went from being cute to annoying. The Secret Life of Pets is nothing more than a dog show on film. They look pretty, but there’s little else there. The story moves from one scene to the next with little fanfare. Each character’s gimmick or comedy routine becomes the standard go-to joke, and the story itself isn’t strong enough to keep things afloat. It’s just Max and Duke aimlessly wandering around the streets of New York interacting with other animals. It’s not terrible, by all means; it’s simply generic.


It’s difficult for The Secret Life of Pets to stand out when there has been so many great animated films lately. The cast is stellar and the animations are wonderful, but together with the story it just becomes a mixed bag that ends up less than the sum of all its parts. It's all bark with little bite.

Matt Rodriguez
Review by Matt Rodriguez
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