Pet Story: ‘The Secret Life of Pets’ movie review

Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures/Illumination Productions

8 Vengeful Bunny Rabbits Out of 10

“The Secret Life of Pets” is a cute, funny film who’s largest failing is that it’s going to be compared to Toy Story.

But even with that comparison and a slow second act, it’s a fun film to watch and a great opportunity for a family outing. The major reason that “The Secret Life of Pets” will be compared to “Toy Story” is that it shares the premise that something we encounter each day has a secret life going on right behind our backs.

For “The Secret Life of Pets,” that something is quite literally in the title as the film revolves around the adventures of the pets in a New York apartment complex while their owners are away. When one of them becomes lost, the others set out on an adventure through the city in search of them. Louis C.K. is serviceable as the lost dog Max while Jenny Slate, Lake Bell, Albert Brooks and Kevin Hart put in great performances. But it’s a testament to the sheer size of the cast that despite all these great characters, the film still felt lacking in that regard. It doesn’t really negatively affect the film to a great degree, but the experience would be better if we’d spent more time with the more enjoyable characters of the film.

Regardless, you can see why comparisons will be drawn between this film and “Toy Story.” Setting aside that it’s hugely influential and a classic, “Toy Story” is the better of the two for one simple yet significant reason. When the novelty of the gimmick wears off, “Toy Story” does a better job of just being a good film. That’s certainly not a blow toward “The Secret Life of Pets.” It’s an entertaining film in its own right but in the second act when it’s time for the film to carry itself without the novelty of its premise, it does drop the ball a bit.

Now one thing that “The Secret Life of Pets” does do better than “Toy Story” is make itself enjoyable to look at. Instead of realism, “The Secret Life of Pets” opts for a much more stylized animation, reminiscent of 2009’s “UP.” Animals and people have overly exaggerated features, allowing not only for easy characterization by appearance, but also very heavily contributing towards the physical comedy of the film. This is most obviously seen in a hilarious sequence with a Weiner Dog, but it’s really present in nearly every scene. In fact, its animation is one of the things that “The Secret Life of Pets” does best, and that isn’t just limited to characters.

One of my favorite thing about the film is its portrayal of cityscapes, with a few surprisingly stunning shots scattered throughout the film. But beyond the wide shots I really enjoyed the distinct style of each of the environments throughout the film, and how the exaggerated animation style really fed into them making each vibrant and distinct. I was quite frankly surprised by just how good “The Secret Life of Pets” looked.
Despite its few faults and unfortunate similarity to “Toy Story,” “The Secret Life of Pets” has a lot in it to be enjoyed. It’s cute, funny, family friendly and I’d wager you’ll leave the theater with a smile on your face.