Friday, October 14, 2016

The Secret Life of Pets (2016) Review:

When growing up as a kid, there's almost a 100% guarantee that at some point a parent will here their child ask for a pet. Whether it's a gold fish, cat, dog, ferret, frog, rabbit, snail or whatever, humans have been domesticating animals for quite some time. There's just something about our pets that we enjoy. The fact that they share and display similar emotions to that of us is so heart warming. They all might express them in different ways but most owners know or understand what their fuzzy friends are feeling. However this is the only thing we comprehend about them on a personal level. They can't speak to us in our native tongue or vise versa and we have no clue what they do behind our backs or how they feel in the moment. When left up to the minds behind Despicable Me (2010) though, viewers will get a completely different perception. Will it make us think differently in what our pets do behind our backs to this extreme - no. But will it let us come up with crazy ideas as to what could happen - of course.

Snowball & Max
This spin off series that runs parallel to the Despicable Me (2010) universe was directed by Yarrow Cheney (his theatrical debut) and Chris Renaud (Despicable Me (2010)). Three writers also collaborated on the script, that being Cinco Paul, Ken Daurio and Brian Lynch (Hop (2011)). The story follows Max (Louis C.K.), a puppy with a good life. His owner took him who found him when he was a baby and gave him everything to his hearts content. Things were great. Then unbeknownst to Max, his owner comes home with another dog named Duke (Eric Stonestreet). Feeling a bit slighted, Max and Duke end up learning that you have to give in order to get. Within that conflict the two end up crossing paths with Snowball (Kevin Hart), an eccentric bunny rabbit whose main goal in life is to overthrow the human race for his fellow abandoned pets. All the while, Max's secret love interest Gidget (Jenny Slate) hopes to gain his affection at some point in time but she's not sure how. Nevertheless she's very determined to make it happen.

The development among characters is proportional to the significance each role has. Through several experiences both Duke and Max learn a lot about themselves. Backstories are given for each, which is why their development works. What's even more effective is how many viewers can relate because of comparable life experiences. Gidget as a love interest isn't written so cliche either. The idea itself is rather turned on its head and that's not seen very frequently. As for Snowball, he doesn't have incredibly deep development but his background is made apparent. For the rest of the supporting characters, there aren't too many complaints to have. The only character that doesn't really have a clear motivation is Tiberius (Albert Brooks) the hawk. According to Tiberius, he's sad to have no friends because his owner locks him away in a cage at the top of an apartment. Yet later on, audiences will see Tiberius being petted by his owner and they seem to be enjoying each other's company,...so why is he upset again?

The other blatant problem in the story's writing is Max's owner and every other pet's owner for that matter. Apparently this whole movie plays out within a day's time. Throughout the running time, Max and company go through a lot of locations in the city. Some not as clean as others. Yet somehow nobody smells his or her pet has been anywhere but home. Surely somebody's pet would be coming off foul somewhere. What are the odds that they remained clean the whole time? That's about as preposterous as Rosie Huntington-Whiteley's role in Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011) where her white dress did not get one smudge. Also the title is a bit misleading. The adventure the main leads go on is nothing that secret. There a few secret like activities that take place throughout the film, but much of it is so out in the open. Aside from this though the comedy and actor chemistry all blend well together. Both Louis C.K. and Eric Stonestreet practically sound like brothers and Kevin Hart makes Snowball likable and hilarious all at once.

The utterly adorable Gidget
The other supporting character that has a number of great lines and best fits her role is Lake Bell as Chloe the cat. So much of her responses and sarcasm are exactly how many cat owners would expect their cat to react to certain situations. The animation is also enjoyable feature. Heading the animation is Salem Arfaoui as senior animator. Arfaoui has been a senior animator going all the way back with 9 (2009) while also participating in Despicable Me (2010), The Lorax (2012) and Despicable Me 2 (2013). The musical score on the other hand was okay but nothing outstanding. Composed by Alexandre Desplat, the music is appropriate to the surroundings with real orchestral instruments but there's no reoccurring theme for the audience to remember. Especially if this is being planned as another franchise, there should be a main theme too. This is what really helps solidify the characters and story. Desplat was also the composer to Unbroken (2014), Godzilla (2014) and The Imitation Game (2014). Especially for such big films, one would expect something.

Definitely an entertaining family movie for all ages. It's strongest point is that it can relate to almost any viewer because of how frequently we as a human race go through pets in our lives. The writing is mostly well balanced with a few questionable tidbits. The music isn't truly memorable but the actors and animation are fun to watch.

Points Earned --> 7:10

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