Illumination Entertainment’s chuckle-inducing new animated feature film, The Secret Life of Pets, is an exhilarating journey through urban-domestic-animal life. From class struggles to gang culture, this film tackles many of the most critical issues facing this under-represented faction of world society. Max, the spoiled protagonist, represents the animalistic and inherent qualities that we humans share. He is prone to becoming habitual, he likes things to stay the same, and he is wary of newcomers and what threats they may bring. Louis C.K.’s seamless voice performance brings life to this character in a not-so-powerful, but satisfying way. There are some great animated films which serve as vehicles for comic expression of their casts; The Secret Life of Pets is no such film.
Kevin Hart, Louis C.K., Eric Stonestreet, and Jenny Slate are not looking for a career boost, rather they have used a mediocre film to expand upon their existing and impressive portfolios. Films like this - those with all-star casts and little artistic or comic worth - often beg the question, Are all who are involved sellouts? This question is generally easy to answer because, as a critical thinker, it is easy to assume the perspective of another audience member. This is especially true of children’s films because, as former children, it is easy to conceive of what a child will find hilarious or enthralling. With The Secret Life of Pets, however it is not so easy. This film lacks the meaningful character development of a Madagascar or a Finding Nemo; the poignancy of the Toy Story franchise; the comic backbone of any number of lesser animated features such as Home, or Minions. No, The Secret Life of Pets is deeply lacking in identity.
Its story is willfully simple, and undeniably cute, but it seems more fitting for a picture book or short film. Stretching such a basic conflict-resolution scenario over a 90-minute runtime is certainly an errand; in this particular case, it is unfruitful. While many themes - love, jealousy, regret, and acceptance, to name a few - are touched upon along the course of the film, they are not featured in any meaningful way. It is this realization that begs the question, What do I gain by watching this film? The answer, perhaps, is supposed to be a new admiration or respect for pets? A radical upheaval in the way we look at our own relationships? It is unclear. The Secret Life of Pets is entirely adequate, but fails to rise above whatever invisible barrier separates the good from the iconic.
This special edition of the film, which includes Blu-ray, DVD, and digital copies of the film includes a satisfying list of standard bonus features (Mini-Movies, Meet the Actors, etc.) as well as several Blu-ray exclusives (more closely related to filmmaking. Anatomy of a Scene, for example). The digital copy is easily accessible and is fantastic quality. The Secret Life of Pets is certainly a film to see in theaters, preferably with children, but this edition is definitely the next best thing.