‘The Secret Life of Pets’ is a welcome take on observational comedy
Being the owners of two mischievous pets, my family and I often wonder what craziness ensues once we leave. One day, my sister acted on this curiosity and placed a secret camera in our basement. The footage was absolutely priceless. Needless to say, we were all excited to see how Hollywood would answer that question. Unfortunately, while humorous and fun, “The Secret Life of Pets” doesn’t provide the audience the kind of insight we hoped for.
This fairly predictable adventure tale revolves around Max (Louis C.K., “Late Night with Conan O’Brien”), a typical terrier who loves being the center of attention of his owner, Katie (Ellie Kemper, “21 Jump Street”). But, Katie disrupts his state of happiness by bringing home Duke, (Eric Stonestreet, “Modern Family”), a huge, unkempt mutt. Max’s jealousy puts the two dogs in a dangerous situation and these domestic canines find themselves in the clutches of Snowball (Kevin Hart, “Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain”), the leader of The Flushed Pets, a group of animals who loathe humans. However, the scenes that prove to be most entertaining are those depicting the adventures of Max’s friends from the apartment complex. Disappointingly, the only hidden-camera type content lasts a mere 10 minutes, with five minute bursts introducing and closing the film.
From the beginning, the plot feels clunky, but there are no major missteps until a little over an hour into the film. On their way back home, Max and Duke get distracted by a sausage packaging factory. While the idea of two hungry dogs ending up in wiener factory isn’t far-fetched, what happens inside is downright bizarre. During an intense dream sequence, Max and Duke roam around an island overrun with wieners. Now these aren’t just your typical sausages – they’ve got facial features, bikinis and hula skirts. As the wieners prance around, the two dogs swallow some whole but only bite off the heads of others, leaving a few headless, yet somehow still dancing wieners.
Even though the wiener scene borders on scary, the quality of animation here and throughout the rest of the film is outstanding. The animals’ body parts are correctly proportioned (no crazy huge eyes) and they are downright adorable, especially as babies. It’s also evident that lots of careful detail was put into creating the city of New York — the walls of buildings are decorated with signs for TV shows like “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon,” the taxi cabs resemble New York taxi cabs perfectly and the famous skyline depicted in the film is an astounding replication. A particularly humorous moment created by this intricate detailing features Tattoo, the pig that two tattoo artists used as a canvas. It’s clear from the close-up that the artists were not the best in their field, as demonstrated by a completely misshapen heart tattoo with “Mom” scribbled across it. If you can glance quickly enough, there are numerous other terribly designed tattoos on Tattoo’s back.
Most of the successful humor comes from the animals representing and defying stereotypes. Chloe (Lake Bell, “In a World…”) doesn’t try to hide her natural elitism. Just like dogs in the real world, the canines demonstrate a wide range of intelligence — while both Max and Gidget actually use their brains, other dogs mindlessly walk in circles, sniffing each other’s butts. The best rejection of stereotyping is the prim and proper poodle’s passionate love for heavy metal.
Although it is aimed at the younger audience, the film’s musical compilation is pleasant to all ears. Taylor Swift’s “Welcome to New York” open the film instantly sets the tone for a fun, adventurous, narrative. Another great addition to the soundtrack is the Beastie Boys’s “No Sleep Till Brooklyn,” which comes in as Max and Duke venture into the city of Brooklyn. For those with a more mature taste, Alexandre Desplat’s (“The King’s Speech”) original score adds sophistication and depth to the film’s more dramatic moments.
“The Secret Life of Pets” doesn’t really surpass other recent animal-centric animated films (namely “Zootopia”), but it’s certainly not the worst to have come out. It’s jam-packed, full of great gags and has a surprisingly laudable soundtrack that matches the film’s scenes quite well. Though it doesn’t deliver in terms of audience expectations, watching still makes for adequate entertainment.