The Secret Life of Pets: Enjoyable, even if not memorable

Imagine if jokes wore boxing gloves and jabbed at your face till you relented. That’s The Secret Life of Pets for you. Every scene is an opportunity for a gag, and every plot development an excuse for more gags. There isn’t a single inert moment in the film, which is both good and bad. First, the bad. It exposes the film’s lack of any serious ambition. The Secret Life of Pets has no great secret to share with you; it has no great point to make, and no great story to tell. However, the directors Chris Renaud and Yarrow Cheney seem to be quite aware of these limitations, and pack the film with so many attempts at jokes that it almost bursts from the seams with them. Some of these don’t even make you laugh out loud, but the directors don’t care. They seem quite happy to evoke a grin here, and a smile there. Like when a dachshund switches on a blender in the absence of its owner, and gives itself a massage. The scene doesn’t matter in the bigger scheme of things, but there is no bigger scheme anyway.

Genre: Animated Comedy
Director: Chris Renaud, Yarrow Cheney
Cast: Kevin Hart, Jenny Slate, Louis C. K., Eric Stonestreet, Lake Bell
Storyline: A lost terrier and newfoundland need to work together in order to find their way home
Bottomline: Enjoyable, even if not memorable

Think of it as a Just for Laughs episode that runs for 98 minutes. The film kicks on with the arrival of Duke (Eric Stonestreet), a rather inconsiderate newfoundland, into the house of Max (Louis C. K.), a Jack Russell Terrier, who starts to feel insecure and bullied. Shortly, Max and Duke get lost, and worse, land in the clutches of Animal Control. While en route, Snowball (a delightful Kevin Hart), a white rabbit who’s up in arms against all of humankind, rescues them, and accepts them into its army of squalor until he realises that Max and Duke won’t quite fit in, as “there’s domestication all over them”. Meanwhile, there’s a romantic angle in the form of Gidget (Jenny Slate), a white pomeranian who is so smitten with Max that she leads a team of domesticated pets to rescue him, and hopefully, win his tiny little heart. And so, the story goes on from one place to another without much direction… much like Max himself.

However, there is a lot to like in The Secret Life of Pets, mainly its unabashed attempts at humour. The jokes and gags mainly play to the usual stereotypes associated with dogs and cats: like when an apathetic cat wryly observes that dog people do weird things, “like getting dogs instead of cats”; like when Max and Duke make their sad-dog face to get a man part with his food; like when another cat doesn’t hesitate to step on a sleeping man’s private parts when scampering across the room; like when a dog is shown to be so happy about the homecoming of the owner that it urinates in excitement. You can’t but chuckle at it all, especially if you’re familiar with the ways of pets.

The Secret Life of Pets won’t stay with you for long, but while you’re watching it, it’s impossible to ignore. My most favourite bit is a running gag of a poodle whose owner is a fan of western classical music. Every time the owner steps out of the house, the poodle takes the opportunity to play the music it loves-explosive heavy metal, and headbangs like there’s no tomorrow. The poodle has no bearing on the film, and isn’t even part of the elaborate main cast. But that’s entirely in keeping with the soul of The Secret Life of Pets, or should I say, the lack of it.

This review was written for The Hindu. All copyrights belong to the organisation. Do link to this page if you’d like to share this review.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Alena says:

    Trailer is definitely very promising and I don’t think the movie quite lived up to it. I think it’s still worth a rental though, but yeah not as good as Zootopia or most of Pixar’s movies 🙂


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