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Secret Life of Pets, The
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by alejandroariera

"Animal House"
2 stars

I suspect the people behind Illumination Entertainment must be suffering from a severe case of what literary critic Harold Bloom called “The Anxiety of Influence.” They strive to create their own characters, their own brand of quirky humor and their own style, but they can’t avoid the gravitational pull exerted by Pixar. Case in point: “The Secret Life of Pets,” their latest production. Not only did those in charge of the studio decide, like Pixar, to precede “The Secret Life of Pets” with a short —an atrocious, virtually unfunny one featuring their now tiresome Minions— but one of those yellow critters walks right in front of the company’s title card at the beginning of the film a la Pixar’s Luxo, Jr. Even some of the film’s characters feel like retreads from Pixar’s first “Toy Story” and “Finding Nemo.”

Co-directed by Chris Renaud (the man responsible for that deplorable big screen adaptation of Dr. Seuss’ classic tale “The Lorax”) and written by Ken Daurio (“Despicable Me 2”), Brian Lynch (“Minions”) and Cinco Paul (“Hop”…none of which will ever be considered classics of computer animation), “The Secret Life of Pets” abandons the potentially funny premise of its title within the first five minutes. In fact, you could argue that the whole concept —what our pets do after we leave for work— would work much better as a series of vignettes than as a full feature length film. In those first minutes —most of which are given away by the trailer— we see a host of dogs, cats, birds and fishes stand patiently behind a door, place a chair in front of a window to keep an eye at the squirrels outside, head-bang to System of a Down, pretend they are flying and diving alongside a couple of jet fighters in a video game, and raid the fridge. The concept is not exactly original: Sylvester and Tweety, Tom and Jerry, even over 100 Dalmatians misbehaved when their masters were not around more than 60 years ago.

We meet our eponymous hero within these first few minutes: Max (voiced by Louis C.K.), an overeager terrier who really really loves his master Katie (Ellie Kemper). Then, one night, she commits the ultimate act of betrayal by adopting from the city pound a big, fluffy, brown dog by the name of Duke (Eric Stonestreet). And just like the new shiny Buzz Lightyear action figure in the original “Toy Story,” cowboy Max doesn’t quite welcome this new arrival with open arms. At first intimidated by Duke’ sheer size, Max soon shows him who’s the alpha male with inevitable consequences: they are captured by Animal Control during a brief walk outdoors and are later rescued by an underground resistance group made up of pets and exotic animals discarded by their owners. They are led by a psychotic but rather cute bunny rabbit (Kevin Hart). All hell breaks loose once again when, in a challenge, Max kills the group’s beloved one-fanged Viper forcing him and Duke to go on the run. From there on, “The Secret Life of Pets” devolves into one chase sequence after another as, stranded in Brooklyn, both dogs try to make it back home.

In the meantime, inspired by a telenovela she watches daily, a cute Pomeranian by the name of Gidget (Jenny Slate) who has a huge crush on Max organizes a search party of her own. Her band of toys, I mean pets, includes an overweight cat, a pug, a dachshund, a canary…and a hawk who Gidget befriends in her building’s roof (Albert Brooks, Marlin in “Finding Nemo”) and whom she strong arms into giving up eating other animals while the search for Max is on (echoes of Bruce the Shark in “Finding Nemo”). They are soon joined by a crafty old basset hound named Pops whose mug bears a striking resemblance to Clark Frederiksen in “Up” and walks around in a wheelchair-like contraption. The film climaxes in the Brooklyn Bridge where the filmmakers busily and boringly mix and match elements from “Jurassic Park 2” and, of all things, “X-Men: The Last Stand.”

“The Secret Life of Pets” suffers from a severe case of ADD…or as Dug would say in “Up”: “Squirrels!” No sooner do its characters settle down and the film is ready to open the door once again into this wild clandestine animal universe that off it goes into the next action sequence. And then, when it does stand still, it offers you a truly WTF moment that leaves you wondering what drugs the creative team inhaled when they came up with that fantasy musical sequence at a sausage factory involving sausages, Max, Duke and “We Go Together” from “Grease.” There are other moments, like Pops alternative route through downtown Manhattan, that are incredibly inventive and madcap in their Rube Goldberg-like complexity. But they are few and far between.

“The Secret Life of Pets” is not only overstuffed with action sequences; it is also overstuffed with characters, from the cockney-speaking leader of a gang of street cats to a tattooed pig, several alligators, a salamander and more. One can understand the writers’ need to create a well-imagined, fully populated universe but this ain’t no “Game of Thrones” or “War and Peace.” If the talent behind Illumination Entertainment wishes to surpass Pixar’s work, then it needs to take more careful notes from the masters: they have a lot to learn about economy of scale and storytelling, about the delicate balance between adult humor and child-like glee. They could even learn a lesson or two from Disney’s brilliant “Zootopia,” where writer-directors Byron Howard, Rich Moore and Jared Bush created a fully populated, well-rounded animal world while telling a complex and yet accessible story that embraced such weighty themes as tolerance amongst the races and cultures.

“The Secret Life of Pets” presents a fairy-tale like vision of New York City, all shiny colors and skyscrapers that owe a lot to 1950s Hollywood (and, weirdly, to Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” in its shots of apartment building windows where the camera seems to be snooping at each resident). It doesn’t hurt to kick the proceedings with Taylor Swift’s tourism board-friendly “Welcome to New York.” The character design is flawless: sometimes one feels like reaching out to caress Gidget’s or even that bunny rabbit’s fur. But, alas, it is too much of a good thing, the visual equivalent of a sugar rush.

Children younger than ten may appreciate the mad pace of “The Secret Life of Pets” better than adults. But when it comes to a film about an odd, antagonistic couple who, due to circumstances beyond their control, find themselves on the lam, their parents will be much better off watching “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” if it’s playing at the same multiplex. In fact, here’s an idea. If your children beg, plead and drag you down to see “The Secret Life of Pets,” reciprocate by dragging them down to “Hunt for the Wilderpeople.” They might even thank you years from now.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=28868&reviewer=434
originally posted: 07/06/16 22:33:45
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User Comments

4/24/18 Louise Really enjoyed it! 4 stars
9/28/16 Angel Baby Araiza This movie was super cute and funny 4 stars
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  08-Jul-2016 (PG)
  DVD: 06-Dec-2016


  DVD: 06-Dec-2016

Directed by
  Chris Renaud
  Yarrow Cheney

Written by
  Ken Daurio
  Cinco Paul

  Ellie Kemper
  Kevin Hart
  Lake Bell
  Louis C.K.
  Hannibal Buress
  Albert Brooks

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