The Secret Life Of Pets (Cert U)
1 Disc (Distributor: Universal) Running Time: 86 minutes approx.
After fifty years of enlightening documentaries on the animals, Sir David Attenborough has yet to explore what happens when domestic pets are left unattended during the day. As the owner of a pug, my experience is that she sleeps, but, as this film speculates, this may not apply to all pets.
Max is a terrier living in a Manhattan apartment with his owner Kate, and is popular among the local animal community of dogs, cats, birds and rodents. When their owners go out to work, the animals get together to chew the fat and have fun. One day Kate brings home Duke, a huge shaggy dog from the pound, upsetting their cosy dynamic.
The next day on a group dog walk, Max and Duke are separated from the pack and after a run in with a gang of cats and dog catchers, they encounter Snowball, a rabbit hell bent on destroying the human race for abandoning pets. Meanwhile the others pets set out to rescue their missing friends.
Illumination Entertainment are a comparatively new animation production company and while the name may not be on the tip on most people’s tongues but you’ll have definitely be aware of their output – their first film being the hugely successful Despicable Me and its even more successful sequel which has grossed over $1 billion dollars!
The Secret Life Of Pets doesn’t have the advantage of potential show stealing supporting characters turned runaway merchandising hit like the Minions but the animal cast are suitably amusing and possess likeable enough personalities to engender a sufficient sense of attachment to make this a fun 86 minutes. And that is the key to this film since the story is standard fare for a kid’s film.
As soon as the door closes after being bid farewell for the day, the metaphorical shackles come off the pets and it’s party time. A prim poodle changes the iPod music from soothing classical to heavy metal, Chloe, the podgy cat, discards her nibbles to devour a roast chicken in the fridge, Norman the guinea pig runs the air vents trying to get home again, and Sweetpea the budgie likes to play video games!
The other dogs such as energetic pug Mel, laid back Dachshund Buddy and white Pomeranian Gidget, who is in love with Max, all live alone with Max and Duke now being the only two dog household. At first Duke asserts his will on Max through his size until he breaks something, giving Max the idea that Kate will assuredly blame Duke and kick him out, and goes on a wrecking spree until Duke acquiesces to the smaller dog.
But Max takes it too far and their bickering during the dog walk leads to them ending up in the wrong part of town and ambushed by hundred of stray cats who steal their collars. They barely escape but the missing collars makes them prime targets for the dog catchers and they are locked up in the van alongside an unpleasant looking muzzled bulldog.
Enter Snowball, a cute fluffy little rabbit lost in the street who suddenly turns feral and attacks the dog catchers and commandeers the van along with his cohorts, a tattooed pig and a lizard. The bulldog is one of their group, the Flushed Pets – animals of all breeds and category abandoned by their human owners, based underground in the sewers.
This has bred contempt for humans and Snowball plans to lead his animal army in rebellion on behalf of the animal kingdom. Some over sensitive folk have suggested this plotline is potentially corruptive for younger viewers, propagating the idea of violence and militant uprising as a suitable resolve to an issue. I prefer to think it is a satirical swipe at the people who abandon pets from the animals’ perspective.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a “U” rated film if this was the main theme and being a slapstick cartoon underlines that fact. But this film is so light and silly that such spurious over thinking can’t ruin the joyous mood it puts the audience in and this it achieves with some well-observed animal behaviour sight gags and some broader reaction based comedy.
For the younger viewers it will be the cuteness factor of the animals that will be the main appeal, each one easily identifiable to their animal group and breed, but given that bespoke cartoon makeover to give their human side more credible, while the script has some nice little quips pertaining to the animal’s natural traits – an example is Tiberius a hawk who has to resist his predatory leanings while helping Gidget and co.
It is such astute observations that belie the frothiness and superficial flimsiness of the central story, and while it will never be mistaken for a deeply profound or though provoking fable, the messages it imparts are positive and straightforward. More importantly, the sentiments aren’t laid on thick with layers of saccharine and emotional manipulation is all but eschewed.
Whilst Pixar and Disney will be on top of Hollywood’s animation totem pole, Illumination are assuredly en route to becoming serious contenders to that crown in the next few years. The animation is superb, leaning more towards the comedic than the natural yet it excels with the use of camera movement techniques during the action sequences, employing 360 degree motion to make the experience more palpable.
The Secret Life Of Pets offers nothing more than brisk, energetic and above all very funny comic entertainment that anyone of all ages can enjoy. It could have been a more morally didactic tale to satiate and admittedly, a less clichéd story to explore the actual behind closed doors behaviour of the animals, which is where the real appeal of the premise lies, possibly might have worked better.
But as pure escapist fun, this delivers the goods. Now I’m off to set up a spy camera to keep an eye on my pug…
English Language Dolby Atmos
Italian, Spanish and Portuguese Language Dolby Digital plus 7.1
Catala, Polish, Hindi and Arabic 5.1
English DVS 2.0
English SDH Subtitles
Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, Hindi and Arabic Subtitles
The Humans That Brought You Pets
Animals Can Talk: Meet The Actors
All About The Pets
Hairstylist To The Dogs
How To Make An Animated Film
Anatomy Of A Scene
The Best Of Snowball
Lovely Day Lyric Video
Hot dog Sing-Along
Brian The Minion On Pets
GoPro The Secret Life Of Pets
Rating – *** ½
Man In Black