The Secret Life of Pets’ first fifteen minutes are perky and imaginative as the animal inhabitants of a block of New York flats wave their owners off to work before commencing their own daily routines. This reveals entertaining proclivities towards gaming, heavy metal and kitchen equipment. Leading dog Max (Louis C.K.) shines in this montage, his loyalty and adoration for owner Katie (Ellie Kemper) sweetly displayed by his total contentment to watch the door all day until she returns. Sadly, much of this sequence was used in the trailer.
Events become more staid and predictable when disruptive dog Duke (Eric Stonestreet) comes home with Katie. After some unsurprisingly ruffled fur, he and Max must form an uneasy alliance (could it lead to friendship?) in the face of a greater enemy – a psychotic fluffy bunny (a Duracell-fuelled Kevin Hart).
As the film veers towards crime caper, it leaves behind whispers of Toy Story and becomes reminiscent of Oliver and Company and 101 Dalmatians, with the chases conventional and rather bland. It’s diverting enough, and Illumination Entertainment displays some panache in the creation of appealing small creatures (this is the same studio that created the Minions – something you’re unlikely to forget with a Minion short preceding the film and product placement within it).
With Disney in the grips of another Renaissance however, The Secret Life of Pets doesn’t do enough with its storyline to fully capture and engage. The pets are cute, but in Zootropolis they’re smarter, sassier and (technically) fluffier.
The Secret Life of Pets sets no tails wagging as it fails to produce a hook to justify long-term success. There are good vocal performances, with Jenny Slate in particular an animator’s dream as the pampered, bow-wearing Gidget, but characters are limited by a screenplay scant in quips and originality.
CAST: Louis C.K., Ellie Kemper, Kevin Hart, Jenny Slate, Eric Stonestreet, Lake Bell
DIRECTORS: Chris Renaud, Yarrow Cheney
WRITER: Ken Daurio, Brian Lynch & Cinco Paul
SYNOPSIS: Spoilt pooch Max’s life is thrown into disarray when his owner brings home Duke, a big, slobbery and unwanted presence. The two must team up, however, when they end up running wild in the city’s sewers and facing an army of unwanted pets, hell-bent on revenge, led by a fearsome rabbit named Snowball.