Review: Who would have thought that there is a secret behind New York’s vibrant landscape? Pets of New York have a secret life that they only show when their owners aren’t home. The Secret Life of Pets is a very literal title to such story.
Secretly, those pets – from mammals to reptiles and birds – secretly interact and have fun just like human. To depict that, this pars-pro-toto animation directed by Chris Renaud and Yarrow Cheney focuses on the life of Max (Louis C.K.), a male dog who thinks he has a special relationship with his owner Katie (Ellie Kemper, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt).
His life suddenly changes when Katie decides to adopt Duke (Eric Stonestreet), a big, furry, lazy and intimidating male dog. An unhealthy schism suddenly embarks between the two, which results in they get lost in the heart of New York’s urban jungle. That situation forces them to work together to survive and find a way home, to Katie, whom they love to impress.
Sounds familiar? It is. The Secret Life of Pets has a little Toy Story in it – in terms of Woody and Buzz relationship reflected in Max and Duke’s – with Despicable Me level of slapstick humor. However, this pet odyssey takes a completely opposite track from the toys. Instead of making Max and Duke sympathetic characters; their schism is depicted as a one-dimensional, which leads to question: whether the filmmaker intends to make ‘the animal instinct’ a benchmark to the plot? If so, the whole setup would contradict the ‘animals have feeling’ premise – which has transcended over casual instinct.
On another light, the decision to compress the secret journey of those pets into one long day is possibly the best decision – keeping the logic and continuity of the plot into safe zone. Branching the plot into a main plot and two subplots is more a hit-or-miss decision. While covering Max and Duke’s story, it neatly slips two subplots in – an encounter with Flushed Pets movement led by a gangster bunny, Snowball (Kevin Hart), who steals all attention; and a search party led by Gidget (Jenny Slate) to find Max.
Those branches give audiences more chances to have tons of fun with those cure characters fueled with hilarious and incredible voice talents. Unfortunately, the plot could not sustain the whole fun bonanza with some shortcuts taken to effectively progress as if the audience would take that for granted.
In terms of storytelling, The Secret Life of Pets effectively focuses on its main track, which might be branched out but neatly written. At some points, it even touches some emotional level, which might remind us to Pixar. However, the ‘effectiveness’ of the plot hinders that emotional moments from making further impact – e.g., Duke’s search for his former owner could have been explosively emotional, but it just goes anti-climax.
Plot effectiveness is a two-edged knife for The Secret Life of Pets; in one hand, it keeps the story as fun as possible for the whole duration; on the other hand, it obstructs most potentials. It is fortunate enough to handle the characters properly with nice write-up and incredible voice talents. With those lots of energy, please be assured that a series of sequels are prepared, hopefully, with a much better innovation to the genre tropes.
The Secret Life of Pets (2016)
Adventure, Animation, Comedy, Family Directed by: Yarrow Cheney, Chris Renaud Written by: Cinco Paul, Ken Daurio, Brian Lynch Starred by: Louis C.K., Eric Stonestreet, Kevin Hart, Ellie Kemper Runtime: 87 mins Rated PG