Movie Review: The Secret Life of Pets (2016)

“Think this is what they do all day?”

1 Stars
The Secret Life of Pets (2016)

The Secret Life of Pets (2016)


Director: Yarrow Cheney, Chris Renaud

Cast: Louis C.K., Eric Stonestreet, Kevin Hart

Synopsis: The contented life of a terrier called Max is thrown into turmoil when his owner brings home a shaggy mongrel called Duke.

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It seems that Toy Story is the movie to which many animated comedies turn for… well, I hesitate to write inspiration, as there is precious little of that in The Secret Life of Pets, so let’s just call it a plot template from which to craft their own minor variation.   Take one lovable character from a secure and loving environment, and add an outsider they mistakenly perceive to be a threat in order to set in motion a sequence of events which will see both characters inadvertently ejected from that secure environment.   Now, watch as the two characters form an inseparable bond after sharing numerous adventures on their quest to return home.  Throw in a few quirky characters and stand for ninety-one minutes.   Then serve warmed over every six weeks.

We’ve seen toasters and toys and human emotions slavishly follow this template with varying degrees of success, and now, with The Secret Life of Pets, we have domesticated animals, although, to be honest, the status of the animals is largely irrelevant.   Blanket advertising for the movie exclusively focuses on the amusing ways in which loving, pampered pets pass their time while their owners are at work, but these scenes are confined to the film’s opening 20 minutes, and the rest of the movie follows the adventures of a couple of mutts called Max and Duke as they try to make their way home.   Max (Louis C. K. – American Hustle) is a lovable mutt whose cosy home life is rudely disrupted when his owner returns home one day with an oversized mongrel named Duke (Eric Stonestreet).   A bad-tempered rivalry is quickly established between the dogs, with the balance of power switching back and forth until they both find themselves lost on the street and in the clutches of a gang of ‘forgotten pets’ led by a cute but psychotic bunny named Snowball (Kevin Hart – About Last Night, Get Hard).   While Max’s friends orchestrate a rescue plan, he and Duke must work together to find their way home.

The animation work on The Secret Life of Pets is as flawless as you’d expect – you really feel as if you could reach into the screen and grab a handful of silky soft fur or touch an inquisitive nose – but the quality of the humour is strictly hit and miss.   Most audience members will have seen the funniest moments in the ads, and the film’s situations and characters are both far too familiar: Clumsy, vaguely menacing dog-catchers, psychotic bulldogs, dogs whose train of thought is instantly hijacked by the sight of a squirrel, a fat cat incapable of resisting the contents of their owner’s fridge, a hawk who must resist the temptation to eat the new friends he’s trying to help: all of these and more are found in The Secret Life of Pets.   There’s even a scene in in which, knowing that he will be blamed for their destruction, Duke desperately catches and juggles fragile ornaments in his new owner’s flat as Max casually knocks them off tables and shelves, which is a routine that featured in a Tom and Jerry cartoon of the 1940s.   This lack of invention and original wit prevents The Secret Life of Pets from being anything other than a pale imitation of those movies from which it takes its ‘inspiration,’  and which is therefore likely to disappoint all those over eight years of age.

(Reviewed 2nd July 2016)

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1 Comment

  1. Thanks for review. This was a lot of fun. The bunny (Kevin Hart) was by far my favorite character. I thought all the other animals were good too, but the bunny made me laugh the most.


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