Thursday, 8 September 2016

The Secret Life Of Pets

(PG) ★★★

Director: Chris Renaud.

Cast: (voices of) Louis C.K., Eric Stonestreet, Jenny Slate, Kevin Hart, Steve Coogan, Ellie Kemper, Bobby Moynihan, Lake Bell, Dana Carvey, Hannibal Buress, Albert Brooks.

It's a dog-meet-dog world.
Ugh. I hate myself.

WHAT do your pets get up to when you’re not around?

It’s not a bad premise for a CG animated movie – it’s also not that far removed from the premise of the Godfather of CG animated movies Toy Story (just swap ‘pets’ for ‘toys’).

This is no Toy Story however, and Illumination Entertainment is no Pixar, and it’s perhaps unfair to compare the two … but I’m going to anyway. If Pixar is the smart, thoughtful kid sitting in the corner reading, Illumination is the hyperactive kid running around crashing into things.

As with previous Illumination films (most of which have starred or co-starred the Minions), The Secret Life Of Pets is a slapstick-heavy adventure that’s big on over-the-top set pieces and an increasing level of ridiculousness.

This is not necessarily a criticism on its own, but that’s all Pets is. It’s a wacky premise and a bunch of wacky chases – kind of like Mad Max: Fury Road in a way, but not as exhilarating or amazing to look at it. And aimed at kids. Mad Pets: Furry Road, if you will (it's ok, I'll show myself out).

Pets also stars a Max – a Jack Russell terrier (voiced by Louis C.K.) who idolises his owner – whose world comes crashing down with the arrival of a big shaggy mongrel roommate named Duke (Stonestreet).

Max and Duke battle it out for the position of top dog, but their fighting results in them running afoul of some alley cats, animal control, and an underground gang of ‘flushed’ pets.

It’s up to Max’s secret admirer Gidget (Slate), with a little help from her friends, to come to the rescue.

The characters and voice cast are solid. Hart is a scene-stealer as the film’s nominal villain Snowball the Bunny, while Brooks chimes in with some great lines as Tiberius the Hawk, as does Bell as Chloe the Cat.

For much of its run time, Pets is exuberant and enjoyable, bouncing from one crazy set-piece to the next, barely drawing breath except to throw in some animal-related gags and a few clever lines.

The biggest problem is there’s not much more to it than that. Once it’s exhausted its jokey premise about what pets do while their owners are away, there’s little else going on. It’s the kids equivalent of an action movie.

This is not entirely a bad thing. Some of the set-pieces are both fun and funny, such as watching a psychotic rabbit drive a bus through peak-hour traffic, or seeing a Pomerian destroy a gang of thug animals. There is some good humour along the way but the biggest problem is the film’s endless chases and escapes get tiring and there is no depth or big life lesson to be learnt beyond ‘why can’t we all just get along?’ and ‘look after your pets’.

It’s predecessors are the madcap thrills of Looney Tunes and unhinged idiocy of The Muppets, but Pets lacks the depths and smarts of these ancestors, and is just left with the wacky sight gags and off-the-wall pratfalls.

Classic kids movies offer something new with every repeat viewing as a kid gets older, even into adulthood. The Secret Life Of Pets is not destined for ‘classic’ status. It’s vibrant and enjoyable, but it’s disposable and slim and somewhat forgettable.

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