Following hot on the heels of Finding Dory‘s June release, Universal Studios released its summer animated blockbuster in early June. With the help of some catchy marketing, which Universal excelled at with their previous blockbuster hit Despicable Me, Secret Life of Pets was on a short list of movies for me to see this summer. I was excited to see all of those cute and funny scenes from the trailers showing various dogs, cats, birds, and other pets indulging in humanoid activities once their owners left for work. The idea of talking animals with the star-studded cast of Louis CK, Eric Stonestreet, Kevin Hart, and Jenny Slate was just too fun to miss!
Unfortunately, these fun moments that poked fun at or accentuated real pet behavior all felt recycled by the time you watched them at the theaters. All of the best jokes were cherry-picked from the film and put into trailers, and most of these fun moments felt as though they had been crammed hastily into the opening act. The whole plot of The Secret Life of Pets (let’s call it SLOP for short) was not, in fact, to explore the “secret life” of pets as the title and marketing materials suggested, but to go on a long drawn out story of camaraderie formed through mutual experience. Caution, mild spoilers regarding the story arc below:
Guess the movie: the main character is happy with their owner and the special bond that they share. Suddenly, a new character is added and appears to threaten the “special” bond between the main character and the owner, so the main character tries to get rid of the threat. But our main character is unsuccessful and is accidentally dragged off and lost far from home with their rival. The two must work together to get home and become friends in the process, learning to share the owner and create a different kind of special bond. Meanwhile, all of the dumb humans don’t notice anything, despite the shenanigans left in their wake. Oh, and there’s a subplot with some scary looking critters who seem evil, but really just want to be loved. The non-human characters even drive a car!
Answer: Toy Story! and now, apparently, also Secret Life of Pets. Only this time, it’s pets instead of toys and instead of one minor traffic collision in a quiet suburb (which, let’s face it, is really the Sid’s dog’s fault) in Toy Story, SLOP opted for a gigantic Spider-Man-esque Brooklyn Bridge pileup and car-splosion that would cause millions of dollars of damage and become a major news story. Are we really supposed to believe that would go unnoticed? The scale of the destruction was too large and every trope was ripped off from the animated uber-classic, Toy Story. Unfortunately, SLOP just couldn’t deliver enough new ideas to seem like anything but an inferior copy.
Overall, it’s entertaining, the art is fun and captivating, and the cast is spot-on, but the plot seems lazy and the level of care we saw in Despicable Me or just about any Pixar film ever released just was not there. This is definitely more of a movie for kids than it is a film for the whole family. Nonetheless, Secret Life of Pets had some truly funny moments, and it’s fun enough to go see and enjoy. I’d just probably save a few bucks and go to a matinee. Rating: 6 of 10.