This summer, the humans who brought you “Despicable Me” will tell you the secret that we have all been wanting to know ever since God gave Adam dominion over the animals at the dawn of creation: what do your pets do when you leave them? If only that were what “The Secret Life of Pets” was actually about.
The animated feature film, released on July 8, tells the story of Max (Louis C.K.), beloved terrier of Katie (Ellie Kemper – a Catholic, whom we discussed in a previous post), whose power struggle with new doggy-roommate Duke (Eric Stonestreet) and a bunch of crazy alley cats lands him – collarless – in a pound-bound truck, with his new roommate in tow.
While trying to get home, the unlikely duo stumbles upon a gang of “flushed,” or rejected, pets whose mission is to take down the human race. Its leader is Snowball (Kevin Hart), a cute white fuzzy bunny, who is anything but cute and fuzzy on the inside. Meanwhile Max’s neighbor, Gidget (Jenny Slate), a fluffy white Chihuahua, leads a search expedition made up of Max’s other neighborhood pet-friends. In order to get home, Max and Duke need to evade the rejected pets and the city pound and get reunited with his friends, all by the time Katie gets home.
Yes, there were some very interesting characters that were built upon stereotypes, while some were their opposites, like the, Chloe (Lake Bell) the self-centered picky cat, and airheaded Gidget, who wears her heart on her sleeve and loves her cheesy Latino soaps, and is in love with Max. There is the pig that was used for practice at the tattoo parlor; and the hawk whose master had seemingly abandoned him. And then there is that poodle that is featured in all the trailers, who loves head banging to heavy metal when his sophisticated owner is not around. (That joke might still be funny when you see it in the actual movie.)
The movie does deliver on its promised funny moments, some which are more predictable than others, mostly thanks to its cast of famous stand-up comedians, including Dana Carvey as Pops, the paralyzed basset hound.
Unfortunately, this movie tells the same story that we have heard time after time, from “Lassie” to “Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey” to “Bolt”: a beloved pet gets lost and has to find his way home, but in this film the owner doesn’t know about it.
“The Secret Life of Pets” has too many characters (16 of them to be precise) to create an attachment to any one of them, and the least interesting one happens to be the main character. The only attachment to Max is the fact that he is separated from Katie, whom all of us pet owners empathize with.
So the credit for the record-breaking $103.2 million opening-weekend for an animated feature should probably not go to the writers, but the marketers who have been promoting the heck out of this movie for the past year, with a Christmas promo, a Super Bowl ad, a “Happy Easter from the Secret Life of Pets” ad, and 34 different TV spots.
Here’s the Super Bowl spot:
The notion of anthropomorphism has been very lucrative since the dawn of literature, especially with the birth of animation. Who wouldn’t want to know what their pets are thinking? The movie delivered on the funny and cute pets and pet moments. Sadly, the plot – though morally harmless – had the potential for so much creativity and was superficial at best.
It might also do to remind younger children that real animals aren’t like the ones in the movies. While pets do have a life when we’re not home, it’s not like the ones on-screen, and we always need to understand animals on their own terms, not as humans with fur, feathers or scales.
Images: Illumination Entertainment