A couple weeks back, Universal revealed they were already moving forward with an attraction for The Secret Life of Pets before seeing how successful its run in theaters would be. It looks like that gamble paid off. The Secret Life of Pets, the fifth fully animated movie from Illumination Entertainment, opened this weekend with over $103 million to become the record holder for highest opening weekend for an original animated film. Illumination has seen plenty of success in the past with the Despicable Me movies and last year’s Minions, but now they can be officially declared an animation powerhouse alongside Disney, Pixar, and Dreamworks.
Box office numbers aside, did Pets warrant the attention and crowds? The answer is mixed.
The Secret Life of Pets tells the story of Max (Louis C.K.) – a dog who loves his life with his owner Katie (Ellie Kemper) until the day she brings home Duke (Eric Stonestreet), a new, bigger dog that wants to take over. Duke’s attempt to push out Max for good ends up backfiring, leading them both further away from home. Max’s best friends band together and set out to bring him home.
If the plot sounds familiar, it’s because this isn’t the first time we’ve seen this story before. Most people will initially compare the plot to Toy Story, because the pets behavior changes as soon as their owners aren’t around, but even that story wasn’t original when the Pixar classic was released. Henson’s The Christmas Toy tackled the issue of what happens when humans aren’t around all the way back in 1986. The originality of plot can be ignored though, because let’s be honest – Simpsons did it.
So, why is The Secret Life of Pets just average? The first thing I’d look to is the pacing. A lot of the moments seen in the trailers take place in the first five minutes of the movie, which slowed things down, because it all felt too familiar. Pets is only 90 minutes long and a lot of exposition is crammed into the first 10 minutes of the movie, so it’s hard to really start to care about these characters when you haven’t had time to develop any true feelings about them. By the time they find themselves in peril from Animal Control Services and bizarre forgotten sewer pets who want to kill all humans, you’ve never really emotionally connected. It isn’t until about a third of the way through the film when Max’s friends set out to rescue them that you really start to care about these characters at all.
That being said, the last two-thirds of the movie is filled with some hilarious and sentimental moments, and really balances out the rough first 30 minutes of the movie. Giving side characters like Gidget (Jenny Slate) and Pops (Dana Carvey) time to shine brings The Secret Life of Pets up to the same comedic standard that Despicable Me set for Illumination Entertainment. Even Snowball, the obnoxiously cute and evil bunny voiced by Kevin Hart, provided a ton of laughs.
And that brings me to the voice acting itself. The Secret Life of Pets was able to draw in some of the funniest actors and actresses in Hollywood right now. Besides Louis C.K., Eric Stonestreet (Modern Family), Ellie Kemper (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt), Kevin Hart, Jenny Slate (Zootopia) and Dana Carvey, Pets also features Albert Brooks (Finding Dory), Hannibal Buress, Bobby Moynihan (SNL), Lake Bell and Steve Coogan. Seriously, you could not ask for a better dream team when it comes to voices. With the exception of Kevin Hart’s Snowball, all of the voice actors blend beautifully into their characters, but Kevin Hart gets a pass because he’s Kevin Hart.
At the end of the day, the real reason Pets remains just average is that it never strives to have a balance between being kid-friendly and mature. Kids are going to eat this movie up in every way shape and form, so prepare now to have it playing on a constant loop when it is released on home video, but the re-watch value from adults will be light. It is in no way unbearable to sit through, but it definitely doesn’t reach that same level of maturity set by Pixar films and even Despicable Me where you dismiss the wildly incorrect idea that animation is only for children and accept the film can be enjoyed the most by adults, but kids will also be entertained.
Overall, The Secret Life of Pets is worth seeing during a weekend matinee with your children. If you’re fans of Universal Parks & Resorts, I’d go see the movie for preparation, because we are about to be slapped in the face with this movie and the sequels and spin-offs that are nearly inevitable.