Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Secret Life of Pets

The Secret Life of Pets (2016) Starring the voices of Louis C.K, Eric Stonestreet, Kevin Hart, Steve Coogan, Ellie Kemper, Bobby Moynihan. Directed by Chris Renaud. Screenplay by Brian Lynch, Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio. Produced by  hris Meledandri. Color. U.S. Run time: 90 minutes. Animation, Comedy.

What is like Toy Story and not like Toy Story? The answer: The Secret Life of Pets, the latest animated feature to be released in the summer of 2016. Every summer has their fair share of these, some good, some okay and some very disappointing. I'm putting Pets in the latter category.

How is it like Toy Story? Well, imagine Woody is a  Jack Russell Terrier named Max (Louis C.K.) and Buzz Lightyear is a larger long-haired Newfoundland named Duke (Eric Stonestreet) and Andy is replaced by Katie (Ellie Kemper) and you're just about half-way there with the story of this film. There are even scenes reminiscent of scenes in Toy Story, if you'll remember Woody saving Buzz at the end of that movie, and you wanted to see it with dogs, then you won't be disappointed.

How is it not like Toy Story? It's bad. Not that it doesn't look good, it does. The scenery and backgrounds of New York look very good. Perhaps not Zootopia good, but very state of the art nonetheless.

And the actors doing the voice work aren't flubbing lines or messing up accents. No, they're fine as well. There is quite a cast of known and unknowns doing the voices, including Albert Brooks, who was recently featured in Finding Dory. I always find voice acting hard to judge. Rather than actual voice-actors carrying the story, the voice-acting seems to be more like stunt casting rather than because the actors pursue their craft with their voices, at least not in the "star" roles.

It's that the story lacks the magic that Pixar captured in their first feature and is more like what Illumination, the animation house behind this film, did in Despicable Me (2010). In fact, it's sort of been downhill for Illumination ever since they burst on the scene. And I'm not talking money, their films make a ton at the box office, but more like imagination. The same creative team followed up their first success with a sequel to that success and then their third film made minor characters, Minions, from the first two, the stars. Cute in doses, they weren't ready to carry their own movie. Now they seem to be recycling storylines from other films; not really stepping it up.

Now, Illumination is moving into the world of pets and while it starts off cute and cuddly, their environment grows dark very quickly, when they fall under the spell of an animal revolutionary, Snowball (Kevin Hart), a little bunny, and his herd of forgotten pets (again think of Toy Story and the misfit toys that cower under the bed in Sid's room next door). I hope it's just me, but I sensed that these pets under Snowball's control seemed to consider their pet parents more like slave owners that had to be overthrown and killed. In fact, that was one of the requirements for Max and Duke to join his team was to recount how they killed their owner, which, of course, they hadn't.

Unlike Toy Story, in which you could almost believe toys acted a certain way when humans weren't around, here, as in Finding Dory, the animals do too many human-like things in broad daylight. It's not a secret life if you're doing it in public.

Don't want to give too much away, since the film only recently opened in theaters, but this is not a must-see movie. In fact, this is one of the few films that the more I saw the previews, and they've been playing for a long time, the less I wanted to actually see the film. My hopes that I was wrong were dashed and my doubts confirmed.

The film is accompanied by a short, Mower Minions, which once again stars those gibberish-speaking yellow twinkies. I hate to say it, but the Minions have overstayed their welcome.

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