So we have a pet dog who adores his owner, sharing a strong affinity, and feeling like the only pet in the world when she’s around. But then she brings back a new dog, which threatens their relationship and puts him on the back-burner. Then the pair, amidst a conflict, find themselves lost and faraway from home, realising they may have to work together to get back to their owner. Sound familiar? Of course it does – it’s the narrative of Toy Story, and one that has been shamelessly mirrored in Chris Renaud and Yarrow Cheney’s The Secret Life of Pets, except in a far less accomplished fashion.
The Secret Life of Pets has the same narrative as Toy Story
Though, not being as wonderful as the cherished Pixar adventure, does not equate to this being a bad movie, because it’s far from it; it’s just not an original one. Plus, it’s rather too hard to come out on top when compared to arguably the greatest animation of all time. But there remains plenty to admire about this feature, which takes place in a Manhattan apartment building. Louis C.K. voices Max, who is so devoted to his owner that he waits patiently by the door each and every day, anticipating her arrival. Until one day when she turns up and she’s not alone, having adopted the mongrel Duke (Eric Stonestreet) from an animal shelter.
The pair instantly irk one another, and during a tumble during an afternoon walk, they find themselves separated from the pack, and after being mugged by a collective of alley cats, they have no collars, and in turn, no hope of returning home. They also find themselves the target of the adorable, if sinister, bunny Snowball (Kevin Hart), who wants to take a bloody vengeance on all pets who have an owner.
The concept to this feature is brilliant, as so many of us wonder what our pets do when we’re away at work all day. Renaud and Cheney, much like they achieved in the Despicable Me franchise with the Minions, thrive in the subtleties of the supporting cast, each character complete with a set of stereotypical traits that belong to their species/breed. The cast members on board are noteworthy too, as the leading vocal talents are joined by the likes of Lake Bell, Jenny Slate and Steve Coogan, while Albert Brooks, whose indelible voice will be gracing the screens yet again as Marlin in Finding Dory, plays the brilliant Tiberius in this outing.
Where The Secret Life of Pets falls short, however, is within the inclination to be so dramatic, as the narrative unfolds into a pure adventure flick across the streets (and sewers) of New York, deviating so far from the simplicity that laid the foundations for the narrative to thrive on. It’s a shame that this be the case, as a more understated approach would be beneficial, and it’s as though the studio are expecting that their predominantly child audience need this distraction and fast-paced story to maintain their attention, but that’s not strictly true. Just look at Wall-E: kids can be a little more patient than we perhaps give them credit for.