I can picture the outcome of seeing this movie among kids. Big smiles on their faces, imagination whirling with wonder, and an appreciation for the elementary humor and color in The Secret Life of Pets. And their reaction is a dramatized version of mine. Did I love this movie as much as the kids in the theater I was in? Not really. Obviously this is a kids movie first and foremost. But this was definitely a fun, unregrettable time watching it.
Pets is the 6th movie produced by Illumination Entertainment, after their successful runs milking the Minions from Despicable Me for 3 movies, and it’s apparent they’ve hit their stride in terms of tone, color, character, and charm. I really appreciated the vibrant nature they brought to New York City, and how the location actually carried weight in the story. The way the pets and humans alike were created and animated were so memorable and oozed charisma in movement alone. Also, the pacing of the story really aided in my enjoyment of this movie. It was just very smooth and fast compared to other recent animated movies I’ve watched, and helped position this film a bit higher in my rankings for animated flicks for the year.
Enough about the look, let’s dive into that voice cast! What a stellar cast on paper. Louis CK plays the lead pet dog, Max, and Eric Stonestreet as the Buzz Lightyear to Max’s woody, Duke. Kevin Hart plays a fluffy white rabbit, Snowball, who’s more than meets the eye, and he delivers a pretty fantastic vocal performance. That being said, other cast members were rather unmemorable, or really just seemed to be phoning it in when reading those lines in their recording booth. Even CK and Stonestreet. The primary standout for me was Gidget, voiced by Jenny Slate. Not just in outstanding voice acting, but her character is just one of the better animated animal characters to ever exist and delivered 100% of the laughs I had watching Pets.
Now I have to lay out my honest criticisms, because that’s why I’m here and (I hope) why you’re here. The content of the plot itself felt rather unoriginal. I had seen many story beats in many of Pixar’s previous works like Toy Story, Toy Story 2, and Finding Nemo. Hell, Albert Brooks voices a hawk in this movie. Buzz and Woody are basically Duke and Max. Additionally, the entire final act feels strikingly similar to the final act of Finding Dory. What gives? I know from Despicable Me that this studio is capable of more innovative stories. The dialogue too could be a bit on-the-nose in spots, which may have ruined a potential laugh or two for me, because I suppose the writers may think kids won’t understand what’s happening otherwise. I could I swear I never had this complaint with any Pixar, Disney animated, or a few of the Dreamworks Animated movies, because they apparently believe in their audience’s intelligence.
Granted, on both of these above criticisms, this is the most nitpick-y of nitpicks to ever exist about this movie, as I mostly enjoyed my time with Pets. I’d rank it above Dory as far as animated movies from this year go (Anomalisa being my #1 currently), primarily because the pacing worked so well for Pets, and I enjoyed spending 90 minutes with new characters that had big personalities. To put it more succinctly, kids will absolutely love this movie and it will destroy at the box office, and adults, you’ll like it too for what it is: inoffensive, relatable fun; especially if you own a pet.