Friday 29 July 2016

'The Secret Life of Pets' Review: To Déjà Vu, and Beyond!

The new film from Illumination Entertainment (Despicable Me, The Minions) is here. Actually, it's been here for a while in the UK (a month) and US (almost three weeks), but it's just arrived in this reviewer's country. So, how good is The Secret Life of Pets? It has to be amazing, judging by those trailers. Well, nope. Read what we think of this movie in our spoiler-free review after the break.

The Secret Life of Pets is the story of Max, a dog who loves his owner, Katie, and hopes everything will always stay the same between them. Tat's why he's so bitter when Katie gets a new dog, Duke, a large Mutt. Max and Duke don't get along, which leads to the two of them being lost in New York. They'll have to understand each other to get back to their owner.

This short plot summary should remind you of a certain film if you know your classics. And that's precisely the problem with The Secret Life of Pets: it feels unoriginal. Every twist and character has already been done before.
You could say that just because a film shares plot points with another doesn't mean it's bad. And you'd be right. Sharing plot points can happen. In fact, given the number of films that have been made in the past century, it's bound to happen. The thing is, beyond a certain point of similarity, you really start to notice. And then, it's the only thing you can see. And that takes you out of the story.

Duke (left) and… Duke (again)

And then there's the execution: it's a mixed bag.

On the one hand, you have fun character animation; the film is good to look at, some of the jokes are delightful (although a lot of the best ones were in the trailers). The action is also well directed and the voice cast is pretty solid (with one major exception, but we'll get to that soon). There's also a lively score from Alexandre Desplat.

On the other hand, the story feels hollow. The character arcs don't feel earned. It's almost like relationships evolve just because "hey, they evolved in that other movie".
And then there's Louis C.K. as Max... He's a very funny comedian, but he gives one of the blandest interpretations you could imagine in this film. As a result, you really feel no empathy for Max. Which is kind of a big deal, since he's, y'know, the main character.

Max (left), Katie (center) and Duke

The Secret Life of Pets is not terrible. It's not great. It's something that you may enjoy as you're watching it, but forget it almost immediately after it ends. In a year with so many great animated flicks, this is definitely one you can avoid.

Rating: 5/10

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