BY ROGER THOMAS
I have been a pet owner for all of my life. Growing up, we always had one dog, three different dogs total during my childhood and teenage years.
During my teenage years, we also had a cat. One cat and one dog at a time was my mother’s limit. When I graduated from college, I got a cat and dog. When I lived in rural York County, South Carolina, I had two dogs and five cats. Now I only have cats, four in all, and I consider them members of the family.
With that said, I found the potential of “The Secret Life of Pets” to be high. There are many directions this film could have taken. The filmmakers chose to open with humorous ideas of what pets do while their masters are away at work. However, they were smart enough to know that this could not sustain a film for 90 minutes. So they chose to develop a plot concerning an “outlaw band,” “mafia” or whatever you want to call it. This is a group of former pets that are now strays, and they attempt to control all the unowned pets.
“Life of Pets” is from the people who have brought us the “Despicable Me” films and “Minions.” I was not a fan of either. Add this new film to the list, and they will have produced some of the weakest animated films I have seen.
The opening of this film is not brilliant, but while the pets are in their homes, doing their daily routines, there are some witty moments. The animation itself is also impressive. I love the shots of New York, and it is an especially clever idea to set the film in the fall. I may be the only one who notices, but I love all the fall colors on the trees.
Once the film moves to the story of two dogs trying to get back home and facing the “animal mob” I was not interested at all. I cannot remember if I laughed once.
I will offer that some of the voices were interesting. The film has a loaded cast including Louis C.K., Kevin Hart, Dana Carvey, Jenny Slate and Lake Bell. My favorite character in the film is the Hawk named Tiberius, voiced by Albert Brooks. Brooks plays Marlin in “Finding Nemo” and “Finding Dory.” May his next job once again be with Pixar.
There are a lot of violent car crashes in the film. I guess the thought is that since it is animation no child or adult will be troubled by it. It bothered me. For the record, the truck crashing in “Dory” was the lowest point in that film. The numerous crashes in “Life of Pets” would have killed quite a few individuals if it were reality. But it is just a cartoon. And maybe I am too sensitive.
Finally, there is one moment in the film that was truly inspired: a dog is upset and the audience knows why because he is speaking English. However the humans onscreen to whom he is directing his words only hear an aggressive dog barking. I wish the whole film had been as clever as that moment.
Way back when I was a child and we owned that one dog, my brother and I used to fantasize about what our dog did while we were on vacation, on a day trip or even at church. We even decided which of the neighbors’ dog was the preacher of the animal church. Way back then, we had more creative ideas than the ones in “The Secret Lives of Pets.”
Oh well, you may find it amusing. I found it something less.
Roger Thomas is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association. He reviews films for The Stanly News & Press.