Seeing “The Secret Life of Pets” is like getting a new puppy. It starts out exciting but soon settles into a familiar routine.
“The Secret Life of Pets” comes from the same team that produced the sweet, funny and memorable “Despicable Me.” That film is almost impossible to follow, especially when there is no breakout character like the Minions.
The closest to a breakout characters in “The Secret Life of Pets” are a spunky poodle named Gidget (Jenny Slate) and a feisty bunny who runs the underground animal world named Snowball (Kevin Hart). They are good, but they run a distant second to the magical Minions.
The dog and rabbit are surrounded by a generic group of animals, including the film’s central pair of dogs Max (Louis C.K.) and Duke (Eric Stonestreet). A feud between them spills out into the street of New York and sends the dogs on an incredible journey.
Part of the problem for “The Secret Life of Pets” is timing. It hits theaters just months after “Zootopia” dazzled audiences with its tale of creatures who act like people. Even worse, is that it opens just weeks after “Finding Dory,” a mega-hit that has similar elements to “Pets,” including animals driving vehicles.
Writers Cinco Paul, Ken Daurio and Brian Lynch must have spent a lot of time watching how pets act, and nail their behaviors. On scene shows fat cat Chloe (Lake Bell) biting the finger of her owner and then immediately licking it. It’s spot on.
Having a guinea pig use the phrase “Ah pellet!” to express his frustration or sea monkeys apologizing for not looking like the picture on the package show some brilliant writing. But those examples are more the exceptions than the rule.
Most of the script is delivered by directors Yarrow Cheney and Chris Renaud in a familiar pattern. It is a slow bounce between the bickering dogs, the rescue mission by their friends and the manic world of the wacky rabbit.
They have created a spectacular backdrop for the story that goes from towering buildings to the city sewers. The colors leap off the screen.
But you can’t call something “Secret” if it has been used plenty of times before. The film would have been better served to focus more on what pets do when their masters are away at home than giving in to the uninspired cross of New York.
“Despicable Me” showed the power of developing a memorable character. The Minions remain such a strong product they are featured in an animated short before the feature.
As fun as the short is, adding it to the movie is a big mistake. It provides immediate proof of how much better the “Despicable Me” movies were than “The Secret Life of Pets.” The good thing is that the bar is so high with “Despicable Me,” even falling short makes “Pets” a passable product.
A push for more originality in the story would have been a big boost to the “The Secret Life of Pets.” As it is, this mildly amusing adventure story will both entertain young moviegoers with its dazzling color scheme and scare them with some intense moments. It has a bit of charm, but it is not enough to keep a tight leash on parents.
The Secret Life of Pets
Cast: Louis C.K., Eric Stonestreet, Kevin Hart, Jenny Slate, Albert Brooks, Lake Bell
Directors: Yarrow Cheney, Chris Renaud
Rating: PG (rude humor, action)
Opens: Friday, July 8