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home TV & Film [REVIEW] The Secret Life Of Pets

[REVIEW] The Secret Life Of Pets

This week I took the little one to see The Secret Life of Pets. I have to admit that I really wasn’t looking forward to this film, which apparently put me in the vast minority. But sometimes that’s a good thing, as having low expectations can leave you pleasantly surprised. This should be a pretty straight forward review as this was a fun and enjoyable film without much controversy to touch on.

If you’re wondering why I wasn’t hyped for this film, well first off I’m an adult male who sleeps with women, so I don’t get stoked about faggy kid shit in general. In addition to that, this movie was hella marketed, and when you go to the movies every week, you end up seeing the same promos over and over and over (seriously at this point I’ve actually memorized the lyrics to that stupid 4×4 Jeep Song), and still no closer to having anything resembling the urge to own a Jeep.

While I admit the trailer has a couple funny bits in it, they become very stale by the 20th viewing, like irritatingly so, and overall I felt like the film looked extremely generic and derivative. I couldn’t help feeling that it would be another bland movie going experience, a la Angry Birds.

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The Good

Kevin Hart & Jenny Slate

Off top, Kevin Hart is hilarious. The whole cast does a good job of filling it’s various roles, but Kevin Hart brings the ruckus as Snowball, the villain we love to love. Even tho Ned refers to him as a poor mans Chris Tucker, I have always liked Kevin Hart and Pets only serves to reinforce that. The rest of the cast is kind of just there, to be honest, they do their job but they don’t really stand out, with the exception of Jenny Slate who also gives a memorable performance as Gidget, the protagonist’s love interest.

Those Pets Really Emote

Even tho it’s not Disney/Pixar level, the animation somehow exceeded my expectations. Watching the previews I felt like this was going to be bland and low-grade animation, at least relative to Zootopia,which I mean c’mon how are you not going to compare this to Zootopia? Turns out the animation is not only really passable, but you can tell they put a great amount of attention and detail into examining exactly how the various animals move and manage to capture the inherent silliness of those motions in a way that is highly relatable.

Good Choons, Lots o’ Laughs

The soundtrack isn’t exactly mind blowing, in fact most of the choices are very safe and mainstream, but the lively backing tracks along side a steady barrage of jokes and humorous moments help keep the high energy fun going and solidify Pets as an enjoyable experience. Particularly pleasing to me was the No Sleep Till Brooklyn scene.

Gidget confronts the cat in Secret Life of Pets

The Bad

I don’t even know what to put here if I’m being totally honest. It felt a touch on the long side, but as a crotchety old man I’m not sure I can remember the last movie that didn’t. It’s safe movie that doesn’t take any big risks, but that’s exactly what I liked about it. I’ve never been a huge Louis C.K. fan, which I’m aware makes me some kind of weird anomaly, and I don’t think either he nor Eric Stonestreet were particularly memorable, but they were at least serviceable, could’ve been better maybe, but certainly not bad.

If I were going to be honest about my gripes with this film, it would be the aforementioned excessive marketing campaign, and, as I’ve mentioned previously, the fact that adults go out in droves to see these movies bothers me on a level that I already talked about in my Zootopia review, so I won’t beat that dead horse some more, suffice it to say that I don’t care how enjoyable these films are at the end of the day, there’s something fundamentally indecent about grown adults having shameless and unbridled enthusiasm for children’s cartoons. Yes, really. Grow up or at least pretend to be a grown up.

Kevin Hart shines and grinds in Secret Life Of Pets

The Ugly

If you’re familiar with my review format, this is generally the part where I talk about the politics of the media I’m reviewing, typically touching on how the modern social justice narrative has reared it’s head within the production. And this is the real beauty, the real reason I was so pleasantly surprised with Secret Life of Pets. It didn’t.

It’s almost as if the people behind the film wanted to make a fun, family friendly comedic adventure about cute cuddly anthropomorphic animals filled with energetic music and packed with jokes from start to finish, you know, rather than beating us over the nose with some heavy handed moral pandering or shamelessly blatant heart string tugging.

The movie doesn’t try to make a big deal out of things like our main protagonist Max and his new roommate starting of as foes and ending as friends, or act like the fate of the world hangs on resolving the romance side plot between Max and his neighbor, Gidget. These aspects of the plot act merely as vehicles for the jokes and the action, an approach which is oddly refreshing in this day and age.

Given the conspicuous absence of poignant allegorical status, it comes as little surprise that at least a few ardent members of the SJW brigade are finding things to whinge about. Like who wants to tell us what the film “gets wrong about black power and white privielge“, or perhaps even worse, this New York Times cat person griping about “muh representation”.

Here I should say that, while Ms. Bell’s purring vocalizations are beyond reproach, the film is clearly the work of dog people, and traffics — like nearly every other movie in its genre — in some tired anti-feline stereotypes. I could go on about this, but I’m not supposed to let my political opinions affect my reviews. And I’m not biased. Dogs are fine. I have shared my home and opened my heart to a few of them. But they’re also just too easy, with their wet noses and broad pink tongues and eagerness to please. Cats are demanding. Complex. A more daring movie would have ventured beyond fat, pampered house cats and scrawny alley predators in its depiction of them. Representation matters.

I see what you’re doing, cat person, trying to pass this off as a jokey bit. You aren’t fooling me, cat person. We all know you would just as soon sell your own grandma for a quarter as tell a joke in non-manipulative good faith, cat person.

The viper bears it's fang in Secret Life of Pets

The Verdict

It isn’t Wall-E, or Toy Story 3, hell it’s not even Zootopia at the end of the day. But maybe it doesn’t have to be, maybe it’s not trying to be. I mean, it would have to be if it wanted 5 stars, don’t get me wrong, but 3.5 stars ain’t bad, ya feel me? Fair warning, mileage may vary, I will stress one final time, my joy was a somewhat direct result of my low expectations.

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