There were two things I liked about The Secret Life of Pets: the minions and Kevin Hart. That’s it. Those are the only two things I enjoyed from 90 minutes of annoyance and monotony. The minions were only in the short featurette before the movie started, so you can already cross them right off of the list. That leaves Hart as the only positive, who admittedly does provide the movie’s funnier and more unique moments. Everything else belongs in the kitty litter.
In what is perhaps his most boring role to date, Louis C.K. plays as Max, a Jack Russel terrier who lives happily with his owner, Katie (Ellie Kemper). They play all day together, but when Katie leaves, Max lays defeatedly on the floor, waiting for her to come back home.
One day, she comes home with a surprise: another dog named Duke (Eric Stonestreet), who she says is going to be Max’s new brother. Frustrated and intimidated by this new dog, Max forms a rivalry with Duke on who will be the top dog of the house.
Does this premise sound familiar to you? An animated movie about characters that live secret lives unbeknownst to their owners, then become jealous as a new neighbor moves in and sets out to sabotage their stay? Where have we seen this before? Where could we have possibly gotten this oh-so-original idea from?
Oh. That’s right. It’s the same plot as Toy Story. How creative.
Right out of the gate, the most detrimental element of this movie is its half-effort of a premise. It is utterly, disappointingly dull. Every single note of The Secret Life of Pets is corny, obvious, and exaggerated, with not one single piece of it sticking with you. All of the jokes, the emotions, the so-called “twists”, none of it is surprising and every bit of it is mind-numbingly, sickeningly predictable.
That’s to be expected with most animated movies though, right? Our culture is so saturated with feel-good emotions and brightly-colored characters that surely their stories are also familiar to us by now. It sometimes seems like they can write themselves. Zootopia was a cute and fun movie, but its twists were too obvious for its own good. So was Big Hero 6’s as it essentially repeated the superhero action formula, but in animation. Even Illumination’s own Despicable Me is so on-the-nose that you knew Gru couldn’t stay a bad guy. Most movies nowadays are predictable, and animated movies are definitely no exception.
All the same, while most animated movies are predictable, that doesn’t automatically mean that they are bad. I can forgive familiarity. What I can’t forgive is mediocrity. I can’t forgive something that feels so bland and tasteless, so ignorant to its own production that it forgets to be funny, touching, or even remotely relevant while copying someone else’s idea. This movie is so by-the-books that it becomes incessantly boring to watch. There is not a shred of integrity to it, nothing to make you care about its characters or the stupidly cartoonish situations happening to them.
Well, that’s not entirely true. There’s one redeeming character in Snowball, a hilarious white rabbit voiced by Kevin Hart. He’s wacky and over-the-top in every sense of the word, a violent little cretin that blurts out long-winded rants against humanity like a radical activist or a disillusioned rebel leader. Out of all of the characters, casting Hart as this bunny gone bananas is sheer genius. His accentuated, ecstatic voice perfectly matches the crazy nature of Snowball, easily making him the most fun character out of the movie.
All the same, one fun character doesn’t replace 15 boring ones. Can I stress how much I don’t care about these characters? I don’t care about Max. I don’t care about Duke. I don’t care about the pets. I don’t care about their voice actors. I don’t care about the less-than-paper-thin plot that they’re forced through. I don’t care about the recycled animation, the unfunny humor, the artificial optimism, the relentless cheese, and the completely random music number inserted awkwardly halfway through the movie. Do you understand what I’m saying? I. Don’t. Care.
This is from Illumination Entertainment and director Chris Renaud, who up until now have both had pretty steady careers. The first two Despicable Me movies were good, whole-hearted fun, while The Lorax was well-intentioned and meaningful, albeit a little heavy-handed. Later this year, they’re releasing Sing, a musical comedy about animals participating in a singing competition. Hopefully they will knock it out of the park and sell out the theater. The Secret Life of Pets deserves to be booed off of the stage.