I was very divided on just how excited to be going into this film as the two trailers I saw had me in very different moods. The first one, which focused on the concept and fun that can be had with the idea of what pets do when their owners are out, was fantastic. However the one that gave more of the story just didn’t seem as compelling to me.
And if you loved those jokes from the first trailer, then you will be relieved to know that there is plenty more of those. I laughed quite a lot in this film. There are quite a lot of good jokes around the natures of certain pets, some of which play to these and some that subvert them. There are also some good pop culture references, always some of my favourite parts of animated films, including a very nice Some Like It Hot moment.
But good jokes are not enough for an animated film. We live in a fairly golden age for animation, with Pixar, Disney, and Dreamworks films (not to mention smaller studios like Laika or Studio Ghibli). And there are so many animated films, which tell beautiful, moving, or powerful stories. And that’s where I had a problem with Pets; the story just wasn’t very strong. The central story follows dog Max, who is upset when his owner brings home a new dog, Duke. Originally there is animosity between them, but after they get lost in New York they have to find away back and learn to become friends.
This is obviously a story that we are all familiar with, and was done far stronger in the first Toy Story. I also found that the elements of the story with Kevin Hart’s bunny Snowball just didn’t blend that well with the returning home story. It felt like something that should have played a smaller role in the film as an obstacle to Max and Duke, not returning throughout. And when you compare it with recent animated films like Zootopia, When Marnie Was There, or Inside Out it just lacks the depth and strong emotional core that has helped elevate this modern age of animation.
Secret Life of Pets does have a stellar voice cast, full of comedians. Louis C.K. plays the lead Max, and I only wish he could have put a little more of his own personality through in the character, as Louis is a really funny guy. There were no such problems with Kevin Hart’s Snowball, who aside from being completely insane is essentially Kevin Hart as a bunny. This will good or bad depending on your feelings about Kevin Hart, I’m not really the biggest fan, and could have done with him being dialed back a fair amount. The rest of the voice cast do a good job, and special mention had to Albert Brooks as hawk Tiberius, who is going to be appearing in both major animated films this summer (he also voices Marlin in Finding Dory).
In the end it turned out that my worries based on the trailers proved to be correct. The film is very funny and entertaining at times, but it is really lacking in the story department. Secret Life of Pets should entertain children well, but isn’t a great animated film, merely an enjoyable one.