From Illumination Entertainment (or eeyluminayshuunn as the Minions call it) comes The Secret Life of Pets.
Starring Louis C.K. as Max, the main dog protagonist, and Kevin Hart as a small, fluffy white rabbit (stay with me), Pets is Illumination’s answer to “what can the studio do next that isn’t related to Minions?” Spoiler Alert – a Minion is still referenced in the film!
Leading up to its release, numerous trailers and advertisements showing pets doing wacky stuff whilst their owners are out were showcased. These provided a very good premise but is it one that we may have heard before?
“What are very surprising are the similarities with the Pixar classic Toy Story”
The plot follows Max, a dog who happily lives with his owner until he has to overcome the arrival of a new addition to the household, Duke. The two dogs, whilst in a park, get captured by an underground gang of abandoned pets headed by Snowball the white bunny. After working together and teaming up to get back home, they manage to return to their owner before she comes back from work (almost as if the dogs were Ferris Bueller).
Despite not wanting to give too much away in terms of the finer details and surprises, what are very surprising are the similarities with the Pixar classic Toy Story. The new addition to a household and the hatred of change, the two “frenemies” getting lost and finally, when confronted with a villain, the decision to work together and learn to like each other. Then there’s the entire premise of “what are pets up to when the humans are away?”, replace the word pets with toys and there you have Toy Story.
Regardless of this, Pets is still a good film with many hilarious moments. A stand-out was how the animal control guys were about as good at their job as an original trilogy Stormtrooper.
“What is very surprising is the similarities towards the Pixar classic Toy Story”
A main critique of the film would be the difference in characters that appeared in the promotional material to the ones that were key to the film. For example, a poodle that listens to heavy rock music appeared a lot in the trailer, but has only a couple of tiny appearances in the film and is certainly not major. On the other hand, a hawk called Tiberius (voiced by Albert Brooks) had a large role but was not as advertised as some of the more popular cats and dogs were.
When it comes to animation, the bar has always been set high by Pixar, and so most animated films are often compared to them. There is a certain moment in Pets in which we find out someone very close to one of the pets has died but is then almost brushed off.
What Pixar does so well is take time to acknowledge these moments and give the audience chance to digest the scenario. This tends to be shown either in a “Jessie from Toy Story 2” way, which makes use of a song, or with the Up technique of going almost silent for a minute or two to understand the feelings of the character. For the above mentioned scene, Pets would have benefitted from something similar in order to take it to a higher level.
The soundtrack to Pets is superb, starting with a really upbeat “Welcome to New York” by Taylor Swift and featuring other favourites such as “Stayin’ Alive” and even some Grease sung by sausages!
The Secret Life of Pets is a fantastic achievement by Illumination and showcases their amazing animation really well. Even though it is marketed for kids, it certainly ticks the “fun for all the family” box with its very relatable scenes and apparent charm throughout.
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Images sourced from Youtube, Collider and Slashfilm