Review: The Secret Life of Pets (2016)

pts_adv1sht5_rgb_0125_7sm2Distributor: Universal Pictures
Director: Yarrow Cheney & Chris Renaud
Writers: Cinco Paul, Ken Daurio, Brian Lynch, and (additional characters created by) Simon Rich
Stars:  Louis C.K., Eric Stonestreet, Kevin Hart, Jenny Slate, Ellie Kemper, Albert Brooks, Lake Bell, Dana Carvey, Hannibal Buress, and Bobby Moynihan
Genre: Animated, Comedy
Rating: PG (for action and some rude humor)
Like most people, I’ve had pets throughout my life: many dogs, a few cats, some fish, and even a hedgehog at one time (yes, his name was Sonic, and yes, he was awesome). Our family dog was with us for fourteen years, but no other pet was a fixture for me quite like Dotty, the meanest rat terrier this world has ever known.
I understand “pet people”, even when I don’t consider myself to be one. I am close enough to many who are to know how deeply they feel for their “fur babies.” Some films are made for certain audiences; if you want a crowd to please, pet owners are everywhere worldwide, so I’m surprised we haven’t seen a movie such as this sooner.
As a parent of small children, I see movies made for them all the time (as my review history with the website will show). Some, I look forward to; others, not so much. Still, I’ve been surprised by some, and disappointed by others. Let me let you in on a little bit of what I thought of The Secret Life of Pets.
The first trailer (or, at least, the snippet of the dachshund scratching itself with the Kitchen-Aid mixer) went crazy on my newsfeed when the film was first being teased, many of the shares coming from “pet people.” I chuckled slightly, but it didn’t blow me away. Still, the image at trailer’s end showing the lineup of the main cast and knowing the makers of Despicable Me and Minions, two mainstays at my house, made me hopeful. A few months later, we were given a more substantial trailer, and I have to admit: I laughed up a storm at what I saw. The movie made the move in priority from “I know I’ll have to watch” to “I’m actually looking forward to this.”
I have now seen The Secret Life of Pets in its entirety. How was it?

Content Guide

Violence/Scary Images: There is talk throughout the film mainly from Kevin Hart’s rabbit character about death and fighting, but it’s really all talk. We hear dogs growl at times, and that may put some smaller viewers on edge, but there is really nothing to worry about here, in regards to appropriateness.
Language/Crude Humor: There aren’t any direct uses of language, but if parents are concerned of their kids hearing imitable phrases like ‘shut up’, ‘poo-poo’, ‘caca’, or swap-out phrases like “Holy schnitzel!” and “Ah, pellet,” then know they are there.
Spiritual Content: There is really nothing positive or negative to speak of in this regard. As most of my reviews show, I can generally see Scripture illustrated in most any film. I didn’t see any of it here. The closest parallels I can draw is that despite our differences, we can find unity with one another if we look past those things and seek commonalities. It’s how we draw closer with our fellow man in the church and in the world. Max and Duke show this in their relationship in the film.
Sexual Content: None at all. Gidget has a huge crush on Max, but there is nothing inappropriate for children in her feelings for him.
Drug/Alcohol Reference: I don’t remember there being any.
Other Negative Content: Kevin Hart’s character is definitely ‘Kevin Hart as a rabbit’. He never said anything inappropriate as the part, but as can be common with actors voicing characters, I could always see kids wanting to check out more from him or Louis C.K., both of whom put out material inappropriate for children. Nothing else I can say as a negative.
Positive Content: There are themes of loyalty and understanding others, despite differences. I can also see how the pets never give up on Max and Duke, and the pair never give up on their owner, Katie. Not trying to knock it, but this isn’t really a “message movie.” It seems like it is intended to be just a fun flick for families. As such, it leaves the film a little hollow, in my opinion, but not all movies have weighty themes behind them.

Review

I could try to give you a big lead up with the film’s premise, but these three pictures tell you most everything you need to know:
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It’s a terrible feeling to feel replaced, but Max, a loyal dog since his puppy days with his owner, Katie, feels that way. After a day out the door, she comes home with Duke. Max and Duke’s relationship doesn’t start out well. Neither one has much interest in being kind to each other, and Max quickly tries to come up with ways to rid himself of the big, hairy nuisance.
Both find themselves away from home, and they come to realize that there is a whole other world in the sewers of New York City, filled with “unwanted pets”: all the bunnies and lizards and you name it that have been discarded by their owners, now live jilted and vengeful of the humans up above. Max and Duke do their best to navigate their way home, being knowingly pursued by the unwanted pets, as well as their neighboring friends near Katie’s apartment. Viewers spend the length of the film following along the various pursuits with jokes peppered throughout to entertain.
I know what you’re thinking: All that’s good, but how is it? Is it good? IS IT GREAT?! TELL US!
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I don’t really have much to say about it. I didn’t do much in the way of plot summation, because that’s really all there is to it. Yes, we learn of Duke’s previous owner later in the film, and the filmmakers try to make audiences emotional with that small thread. It didn’t really work for me, and that’s kind of where I ended up with the entire picture.
It’s funny, granted, but there isn’t really much of a film plot to hang it all on. The voice actors all do great with what they were given, so there is no fault there; there really wasn’t a standout performance, but I think that has to do with the script.
The pacing doesn’t ever seem to be an issue, which is good, but there isn’t much of note here. The best moments in the film are at the beginning and end, when you see all the pets in the neighborhood with their particular owners in their environment. The funny parts are at the beginning (which the trailer has largely shown you). At the end, with little to no words, the filmmakers convey what makes having a pet so meaningful and special to people. That scene was very nicely done.
Still, overall, what I left with was the feeling that the best bits of the film were in the trailers I saw already. The film isn’t bad, but it isn’t great. Like the pets featured, it’s just “fluffy”, and I’m struggling to remember much noteworthy about it for this review. If you have kids, feel free to take them. I often  leave children’s movies nowadays as a parent like a crotchety old man, complaining about all the junk they fill these kid flicks with. I didn’t feel that here, but I really didn’t feel anything, period. If you go with your kids/grandkids, I venture to say that they’ll laugh, you’ll laugh, and you’ll all go home entertained. You may not remember much about it after that, but it will be a good time while it lasted.

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Positives

+ Kid-friendly fun + Great voice-actors + Brisk pacing with a touching end sequence

Negatives

- Pretty forgettable overall - Concept of film doesn't feel well-executed

The Bottom Line

While there isn't anything "bad" about the film, there doesn't seem to be all that much that is good and noteworthy either. Overall, the film feels half-baked with the best scenes in the trailers.

 

7.3

Colby Bryant

Colby Bryant currently serves as the Music/Youth Minister of Oak Grove Baptist Church in Hugo, Oklahoma, and he served as Pastor of Archey Baptist Church in Soper, Oklahoma for several years prior. He and his wife, Stephanie, have three children. He enjoys adding to his extensive knowledge and collection of movies and TV by watching and collecting as many as he can, and he gets in as much video game and tabletop playtime as his schedule will allow. *** John 14:6 - Jesus said to him, "I am The Way, The Truth, and The Life. NO ONE comes to the Father except through me." ***

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