The Secret Life of Pets

UK Release Date 24th June 2016
Director Chris Renaud, Yarrow Cheney
Starring Man's Best Friend
Runtime 90 Minutes
Certificate U
Reviewer Si
Reviewed 19th June 2016

Production house Illumination Entertainment have had a somewhat patchy record since their still great breakout hit Despicable Me. The sequel to that movie was average and the inevitable Minions spin-off had its moments but was largely forgettable due to stretching minor characters way too far. Can they break out of this post Gru funk?

The Secret Life of Pets sets an interesting question - what do your pets get up to once you close that door and head off to work? I say ‘interesting’, I mean, it’s not like a life changing philosophical poser or anything, more just a nice whimsical ‘hmmmm….’

Despicable Me alumnus Chris Renaud (co-directing along with Yarrow Cheney, stepping up from Production Designer) takes this premise and attempts to make a 90 minute movie out of it. As you may be able to tell from the tone, he doesn’t really manage it. 

Dutiful dog Duke adores his owner and has been the only feature in her life since he was discovered in a box labelled ‘Free Puppies’ left in the street (does this actually happen? Doesn’t seem very responsible..). He spends his days sat in front of the apartment door, looking forward to welcoming Katie home, largely oblivious of neighbouring dog Gidget’s affections. Duke’s world is turned upside down when Katie brings home the gigantic Max from the pound one day. Things don’t go well, though Max seems generally good natured and before you know it, some park-based shenanigans lead to the two boys being lost in big old New York. Gidget realises that something is amiss when the dozy dog walker returns two leads short (something that seems to go completely unnoticed by any of the human characters). A rescue attempt is mounted whilst Max and Duke are contending with vicious alley cats and an adorable but completely psychotic bunny.

The somewhat inevitable result of all of that is an extended chase movie, barrelling through a particularly shiny version of New York. Duke and Max form an alliance to get free of the pursuing Animal Control and a variety of NY’s finest pets are recruited for the ensuing rescue attempt.

Which gives us a gently entertaining but never particularly challenging romp. Some characters are hits - Kevin Hart’s lunatic bunny Snowball is a standout, some merely fill space and some are there specifically for visual gags - which to be fair, are pretty funny (witness the sausage dog climbing a fire escape). Sadly, the script is utterly uninspiring and even the good characters are thinly sketched. The initial idea expires after five minutes and a particular amusing thrash metal obsessed poodle and what is left never really catches fire.

To add to this, the soundtrack, I’m guessing, will grate on anyone above the age of nineteen (I have no clue what the kids are listening to these days), the opening track is particularly painful for middle-aged ears. The movie is of course aimed at a much younger audience but, given the relative silence from that audience in the, admittedly sparsely populated, screening I attended, I’m pretty confident this isn’t going to stick around very long in their minds either.

In Short:

Gently amusing and relentlessly good natured, with some inspired visual gags, The Secret Life of Pets is simply too thin on laughs, excitement and characterisations to make any kind of impact in a field much better served by Disney / Pixar. One to catch on VOD.

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