Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Movie Review: The Secret Life of Pets (2016)

The other day I saw with my girlfriend, mom, and little cousins Illumination Entertainment's new animated film The Secret Life of Pets. Although this type of movie usually isn't my thing, the metal-head poodle from the trailer is what sold me on the film.

So here's the review...

The Plot

Max (Louis C.K.) is a terrier who's loving his life with his owner Katie (Ellie Kemper) in her New York City apartment. Then one day she brings home a much larger new dog named Duke (Eric Stonestreet). Max does not like this intruder one bit, but the two end up lost in the city without their licenses after a dog-park mishap. Neighboring dog Gidget (Jenny Slate) recruits other local pets--who have a human-like society that operates when their humans aren't home--to rescue Max, on whom she has a crush. Unfortunately she's not the only one looking for Max--the angry rabbit Snowball (Kevin Hart), who leads a band of abused and abandoned pets, are on the hunt for him as well.

The Good

*Where do I begin? This movie is absolutely hilarious. I could not stop laughing for most of the film. Of particular amusement is Snowball, whom Hart plays as a Black Panther militant-revolutionary type. He has so many funny lines it's hard to pick out specific ones, but I did like the sequences from the trailer in which he poops himself during a speech and another where he floats on some driftwood while commenting on his appearance, as well as a funeral speech he gives. Snowball's gang also has some amusing characters, including a pig Snowball uses as muscle.

There's plenty of humor coming from characters other than Snowball. The scene in the trailer where Gidget interrogates criminal feral cat Ozone (Steve Coogan) was amusing, as is a sequence where Duke and Snowball sneak into a sausage factory. The apartment that the elderly disabled basset hound Pops (Dana Carvey) turns into a chronic party-place for pets has a whole bunch of funny scenes in it. There's also a hilarious bit involving YouTube cat videos that kids and parents will love. And let's not forget Leonard the metal-head poodle. :)

Heck, I can't name them all or even a double-digit percentage of them. Just see the movie. It's absolutely hilarious.

*The voice-acting is really good. I liked all of them, especially Snowball. I seriously didn't have any problems with any of the voice-acting at all.

*The characterization is complex. Max is hostile toward Duke, but it's because his life revolves around his beloved owner and he feels betrayed. Duke initially tries to bully Max, but it's provoked and we later find out he has very good reasons to fear losing his new home. Snowball is a violent loon, but he's, as TVTropes put it, a Father To His Men (well, animals, but that's not the point) and also has good reasons to hate humans.

*The 90 minute running time is pretty brief, which fits for a movie aimed at children. There were only a couple times I looked at my watch.

*The animation quality was really good. I'm a fan of old-fashioned 2D animation that's really out of favor now (I think the last major film using that technique was The Princess and the Frog), but I had no problems with this one. No character looked like a mobile Barbie doll; no cityscape looked like a bunch of toy blocks stacked up. Perhaps you could call me a convert. :)

The Bad

*I honestly can't think of anything major. The closest thing I can come up with is that some parts of the storyline that are supposed to be poignant really aren't. And that might be just me.

*Some critics have accused the movie of being too much like Toy Story. I concede they've got a point--the Toy Story films had a "secret society that hides from humans" thing going, while Woody and Buzz were initially rivals the way Max and Duke are. However, I didn't think that was a problem. It'd be a ripoff if these were toys, not pets, and these aren't toys.

*Acknowledging that having a dog of Duke's size in a New York City apartment is not fair to Duke or Max and not safe for Katie's property either would have been good. If it's made clear that Katie is fostering Duke temporarily, it would make her look like a more responsible pet owner and make Max look like more of a jerk (he's getting territorial about somebody who's not going to be there long).

The Verdict

A great movie, and I don't just say that because I enjoy promoting non-Disney animation. 9.5/10.

Hopefully there'll be more of these movies and Illumination will provide an alternative to Disney (not faulting Disney, but I doubt they'd go for something edgy like making Snowball the animal version of a Black Panther) for a long time to come. And I'm pretty sure I'll be buying the DVD.

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