The Secret Life of Pets

by Toby Woollaston

The school holiday animated flick is often a hit-and-miss affair. Its critical success relies on the studio getting the right level of universal appeal; a delicate golden ratio that balances the age of its audience. Catering for children, parents, and grandparents can’t be an easy feat and we’ve all had our share of wading through a movie that didn’t quite get this golden ratio right. It’s a trying experience and I was hoping that The Secret Life of Pets wasn’t going to join the company of holiday films that tout cheap double entendres and simple slap-stick humour.

Directed by Chris Renaud (Despicable Me) and newcomer Yarrow Cheney, The Secret Life of Pets is set among the high-rise apartments of Manhattan. The film focuses on a dog named Max (voiced by Louis C.K.) whose life is turned upside down when his owner arrives home with another dog named Duke (Eric Stonestreet). The two jostle for their pecking order, however this only ends with an unfortunate mishap that results in the couple getting lost. The quest to find their way back home is complicated when they meet a gang of unsavoury sewer dwellers led by a ferocious white bunny rabbit (Monty Python, anyone?), voiced by funny man Kevin Hart. Meanwhile, Max’s secret admirer, a white Pomeranian who lives next door named Gidget (voiced by Jenny Slate), mounts a rescue effort with the help of her friends.

To borrow a Kermodian (a la BBC’s film critic Mark Kermode) method of comedy analysis — did the film pass the six laugh test? Well, yes it did … just. Adorning these six laughs were some fairly healthy chuckles as well. But the gags certainly weren’t original and tended to comprise of riffing on well trodden archetypes. Some chuckles might’ve been belly-laughs had the humour not been quite so conventionally delivered. Sure, The Secret Life of Pets offers a film that is formulaic, but you never get the impression that it wants to be anything more.

It certainly doesn’t have the charm of Pixar’s Up, the depth of Inside Out, or the heart of WALL-E. But what it does offer is a perfectly serviceable school holiday flick that you can take your kids along to and get a solid six laughs (and few chuckles thrown in for good measure).

Rating: 3/5 stars.

See the published review here.