“The Secret Life of Pets”

“The Secret Life of Pets”
Directed by Chris Renaud, Yarrow Cheney

the-secret-life-of-pets-poster-14In my previous review, I joked that I went to a Todd Solondz movie called “Wiener-Dog” and was surprised it wasn’t a children’s animated film and that it wasn’t as terrifyingly human as his previous films have been. This evening I went to a children’s animated film called “The Secret Life of Pets” and, no joke, was surprised to find a terrifyingly human film that out-Solondz’d “Wiener-Dog”. “Pets” is harrowing, claustrophobic, murderous and onerous. It deals with institutionalized rage leading to the planning of premeditated genocide. It consistently showcases grief as a result of loss. And its main delivery system of action is to see how close characters can actually come to dying in horrible ways and still survive.

Oh, and there’s some funny animated bits as well.

I am no prude and I think we don’t give our kids enough credit when it comes to what they can handle, as long as parents take the time to educate. But this film is NOT for the very young.

And, actually,  I’m not so sure it works for adults either. At least not with any consistency. There are some AMAZING interpretations of what pets would do if anthropomorphized. Extremely clever and sometimes hilarious. But, the script seems to have been given the very short end of the stick. While it’s a decent enough caper and the sight-gags are fantastic, the actual jokes miss as much as they hit. With other animated features you could excuse that as simply trying to target a much younger audience. But not so, this film. The kids will think the animals are funny, but they’re going to miss a LOT of it. If it had even an ounce of “Finding Dory’s” heart, it would have been a MUCH better film.

The animation, however, is exceptional. You must see it in 3D, if for no other reason than the opening title sequence. It is one of the best animated representations of New York City you will ever see. But even beyond that, the visuals throughout are filled with depth, color, and pristine clarity of action. Illumination really knows what they’re doing.

As for the voice performances…they are mostly very good, and occasionally exceptional. Jenny Slate is sensational, filling her character with warmth, humor and kick-ass devotion. Louis CK is very good, but, as you can imagine, a little underwhelming when just a bit more intensity would’ve helped. Eric Stonestreet has the distinct disadvantage of having to play almost all of his scenes opposite CK, so he sometimes comes across as screeching, but I think he’s simply trying to invest for the both of them. I had, gladly, managed to avoid ever seeing a Kevin Hart film until this point, but I have to say, as over-the-top as his performance is in this film, he at least goes for it. Everyone else plays it pretty safe with a few exceptions here and there. Finally, I have no idea what Dana Carvey is doing.

The one thing I CAN rave about is Alexandre Desplat’s lush score. Half Henry Mancini, half Quincy Jones, it’s all Big-Band lush, and I loved every note of it. It goes to the front of my download queue.

Just as I felt with “Zootopia”, “Pets” is missing a larger, overarching point of view…a depth of soul…that one finds in better contemporary animated features (“Inside Out”, the “Toy Story” series, “Nemo”, “Wall-E”, “Up”). Which is a shame, because, not only is it a marvel of the animated craft, it possesses so many astonishing insights in to the secret life of pets.

Written on July 8, 2016

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