Directed by Chris Renaud, Yarrow Cheney
Starring the voices of Louis C K, Eric Stonestreet, Lake Bell
Released on 24th June 2016
When the first trailer for The Secret Life Of Pets came out a year ago, the Twittersphere and YouTubeland went bonkers. For any pet owner that saw it – especially if they had a mutt or a moggie – it confirmed what they’d always thought. That, while they were out at work, their four legged friends had a blast. Even if they didn’t leave much in the way of evidence.
TV documentaries have explored the same territory. And now we get to see Illumination Entertainment’s version. They, of course, gave us both Despicable Me movies and Minions. Bear with me, I’ll come back to them in a moment.
The pets in question all live in one particular New York apartment block, where just about everybody has an animal companion. We don’t see much of the humans – usually just their legs and feet – and the main character is Max (voice of Louis C K), a small, friendly dog who adores his mistress, Katie. But his moist little nose is put right out of joint when she brings home some company for him, in the shaggy, oversized shape of Duke (voiced by Eric Stonestreet). Inevitably, they don’t get on but, while out with their dog walker, they lose their collars, are pursued by the Animal Patrol and join forces with a group of human-hating animals, led by psycho bunny Snowball (voice of Kevin Hart), in the hope of getting back home.
So the first part of the film is set in the apartment block, showing us what the pets get up to as soon as their owners have closed the door behind them. Essentially, it’s a longer version of the trailer and it’s the best part of the film because, once they get into the big wide world, it becomes little more than a chase movie. And there’s lots of chases, with Max and Duke being pursued by either some nasty alley cats, Snowball and his gang or Animal Patrol. Underground sewers, the Hudson river, building sites, they get everywhere and often more than once. So there’s lots of action and that will, no doubt, keep the kids happy.
Back to the Minions. The companion piece to the main feature is Mower Minions, with Stuart, Kevin, Bob and two mates watching shopping TV and deciding they need a gadget to make banana smoothies. But they’re skint, so they set themselves up as gardeners and hot foot it to the local old folks’ home in the hope of some work. And you can imagine what happens. It’s the sort of the good natured, hilarious silliness that you expect from the little yellow guys, plus a bit of grossness. Standard Minions fare, in other words.
Except that it proves something. That the idea was perfect for a short but nothing more. And the same applies to The Secret Life Of Pets itself. It would have made a great short, but as a feature film it’s been padded and stretched to the nth degree to fit the mandatory 90 minutes. There just isn’t enough there and it’s horribly obvious.
It also lacks that other essential ingredient for a popular family movie. None of the characters are especially engaging. OK, Max is likeable enough, and so is Duke but they don’t have anything that will turn them into family favourites. Their friends are just one-joke-wonders. Buddy the dachshund uses the KitchenAid to give himself a massage. Upper class poodle Leonard listens to Vivaldi while his owner’s around, but is a head banger when he’s gone to work. And Tiberius (the voice of Albert Brooks, soon to return in Finding Dory) the hawk, is constantly stopping himself from eating any of the other animals. That’s all they have to offer. To their credit, they’re better than Kevin Hart’s Snowball, who is plain nasty and not especially funny. Hart may be the only instantly recognisable name on the cast list, but his mouthy little critter is enough to put you off rabbits for life.
After all the enthusiasm that greeted the first trailer, the film falls well short of all that promise. The story is paper thin, the characters are bland and the end result is certainly not pawsome. It’s more of a faux paw. And that’s no secret.
The Secret Life Of Pets is released on Friday, 24 June and reviewed on Talking Pictures on Thursday, 23 June.