Review: The Secret Life of Pets

Ever imagined what your pets get up to when you’re not around? The newest release from Illumination Entertainment – the studio behind the hugely popular Despicable Me (2010) – brings this idea to life.

From directors Chris Renaud and Yarrow Cheney, The Secret Life of Pets exposes the adventures that New York apartment cats, dogs, and other domestic animals get up to whilst their owner’s backs are turned.

The story

The film focuses on Jack Russell Max (Louis CK) who considers himself to be the “luckiest dog in New York”. He has the “perfect relationship” with doting owner Katie (Ellie Kemper).

However, Max’s world is soon torn to shreds when his owner adopts an oversized, beast-like mongrel named Duke (Eric Stonestreet). Unwilling to share Katie’s affections with the hairy new arrival, Max’s jealousy soon results in the pair clashing, which leaves them both stranded in the back streets of New York.

After a run-in with a pack of stray cats ends in the duo becoming collarless, Max and Duke now have to find their way back home. But of course, their journey isn’t easy. Their travels see the two canines having to dodge the net of animal control as well as going face to face with a human-hating gang of animals who call themselves the ‘Flushed Pets’.

Short of the mark

With the standards of animated films being set so high in recent times, The Secret Life of Pets has the likes of the hugely successful Inside Out (2015) and the highly anticipated Finding Dory (2016) to contend with. Unfortunately, it feels like Illumination Entertainment’s latest film has fallen just short of the mark.

In terms of originality, The Secret Life of Pets remains in the shadow of these animated giants, and to be more specific, it suffers from unavoidable comparisons to Disney Pixar’s Toy Story (1995).

The notion of jealousy leading to a quarrelling duo getting lost and ultimately becoming friends seems all too familiar. The similarities even extend down to the part where the humans are completely oblivious to what goes on when they’re not looking. After facing a wave of criticism for taking the plot of Toy Story (1995) and just substituting toys for pets, it seems like the film has a questionable level of originality.

Humour and fun

Despite the recycled storyline, the film does deserve praise for its humour, making it a fun film to watch. The Secret Life of Pets bases a lot of the comedy on irony – we see a poodle who lives a life of sophistication, but head bangs to rock music as soon as his owner leaves the door.

The film also features a seemingly cute and innocent bunny rabbit named Snowball (Kevin Hart) who is actually the leader of an underground revolution that seeks revenge against domestication. Undoubtedly, these contradictions work fantastically to create a winning formula for generating laughter.

Another redeeming factor is the visual aspect of the film. The colourful and sharp animation is evidently a stand-out feature straight from the outset, and the animation is showcased especially well within the contrast between the bright colours of New York’s Central Park and the detail of the skyscrapers that tower over the city. The eye-catching visuals succeed in making the film a fun and family-friendly watch.

Even though The Secret Life of Pets may not be the most memorable or original animation of recent times, it can definitely take credit for being cute and fun. A highlight of the film is the heart-warming interactions between the owners and their pets, and these relationships separate the film from being an exact clone of Toy Story.

The film provides an entertaining journey that explores the mutual love between pets and owners, and in doing so, emphasises the special bond between the two.

Have you seen the film? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!