“I’ve got a bad situation.”
When it comes to animated movies, or even just family friendly flicks appealing mostly to children, I find myself saying the same thing over and over…kids are not stupid. Yes, farts are taboo, imaginary words are silly, clumsy tumbles and stumbles get instant laughs. That’s not a hard thing to do. Curiously though, my small showing of The Secret Life of Pets had enough little ones to fill a preschool, yet the room remained mostly quiet. There were some squeaks at outrageous sight gags, but other than that nothing close to resembling the infectious laughter of an innocent child. I haven’t seen a worse animated movie this year, and in dog years it’d still be towards the bottom of the list. I struggle to even call it a film.
In a dense little world like New York, all that matters to Max (Louis C.K.) is his owner Katie (Ellie Kemper). When she leaves, he sits by the door at bay. When she returns, he acts like hours have been years. You know its true if you’ve ever seen a loyal dog before. But the territorial Max feels betrayed when Katie brings the behemoth Duke (Eric Stonestreet) home, like a first-born upset that another egg in the nest has hatched. It’s an invasion of his space, his sense of normalcy. Borrowing heavily and often from the Toy Story dynamic of Woody/Buzz, The Secret Life of Pets chalks up a big fat zero on the scorecard when it comes to the relationship between Max and Duke. Their rift is not rooted in jealousy, their buddy adventure completely out of left field. Had it not been so lazy with the follow through, settling for barks instead of bites, the movie really could have sailed home any message of its choosing. You’d think messing up something as universally beloved as household pets would be a damn hard thing to do. Well, think again.
It’s hard to overstate just how thinly these animals have been written, resorting to instincts and traits instead of defined personalities. The entire plot is contingent upon their identification through their humans. Problem is, besides maybe 3 total minutes, the owners never contribute to the story. The Secret Life of Pets sets up an effective plot device with a beguiling open before running afar and astray from what it needs to add depth and care to the juvenile humor. That’s what sets Illumination Entertainment on a rung way below the standards of Pixar. Despicable Me, Minions, The Lorax, Hop. The company has been tumultuous to say the least, but its latest outing is by far its most derivative and indifferent movie to date.
Loud only gets louder with Kevin Hart voicing a villainous bunny, taking the movie to the sewers with other unwanted animals for no good reason. The relocation isn’t creative; it’s foolish, leaving all the potential on the surface untouched. And the rest of the cast is incapable of giving these characters anything other than indistinct audio. Many will throw thumbs up to the nonsense because of its wide-eyed cuddle bugs. Others will even say it’s good for all audiences. But this is a movie that requires no conscious effort from the viewer, playing dead and dumb with only a rare trace of smarts. The Secret Life of Pets represents time spent out of mind, which if you ask me, is time wasted.
“I don’t care about you or your problems.”
Rating: 1 out of 5