Back in the heyday of Pixar, there was essentially no other animated studio that could come close to their quality, humor, and multi-level storytelling. Not even Disney who owned Pixar could compete with them in their epic 1995 to 2010 run (not counting Cars). Now that the tables have shifted and Disney is king once again with one great film after another including this years hit “Zootopia”. Slowly creeping up on the two titans has been Illumination Entertainment who in less than 10 years has had huge hits in the Despicable Me franchise which spun of into “Minions”. Their latest which they hope will get them closer to the greatness of Disney and Pixar is “The Secret Life of Pets”.
Max (Louis C.K.) is a terrier that has it made in his cozy New York apartment with his owner Katie (Ellie Kemper) he is enjoying the routine life of a domesticated pet until Katie brings home a new dog Duke (Eric Stonestreet) a big fluffy mutt who immediately attempts to take over Max’s home and life. When the pair both try to get rid of the other, they wind up lost and collar-less in New York. They have to evade dog catchers, survive an army of cats and deal with a underground group of animals led by fluffy bunny named Snowball (Kevin Hart). Having to rely on each other Max and Duke will do anything to get back home. Meanwhile Max’s fellow house pets begin to search the city for him, led by Gidget (Jenny Slate) and a slew of dogs, a cat, and birds including Albert Brooks as the hawk Tiberius.
The best way to describe this film is if you put “Toy Story”, “Bolt” and “Toy Story 2” in a blender, you’d get a smooth, tasty blend of Pixar lite fun. There is not much in the way of originality here, but the voice work and silly situations maintain a good pace that entertains as we see these pets get in and out of very familiar situations. Kevin Hart crushes just about every scene he’s in, as everyone else pretty much holds their own throughout the film. The dynamics between all the animals is hit and miss, with mostly hits in its tight 90 minute run time.
So while Illumination is nowhere near the level of Pixar and Disney, they are certainly moving in the right direction with ‘Pets’. With Dr. Seuss adaptions as well as the predictable Minion sequel coming there may not be much to look forward to, but it will be interesting to see how they get there.
–Robert L. Castillo