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In a Manhattan apartment building, Max's life as a favorite pet is turned upside-down, when his owner brings home sloppy mongrel Duke. They must put their quarrels aside when they learn that adorable white bunny Snowball is building an army of lost pets determined to wreak revenge.Written by
The original release date for this film was February 12, 2016, but got pushed back later to July 8, 2016. See more »
When Mel's owner is leaving, the front door is white and there is wall-to-wall blue carpeting on the floor. In the next scene, the wall-to-wall carpeting has gone and the front door is now blue. See more »
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I start this review by first acknowledging there's nothing wrong with this film from a family-oriented entertainment point of view. It's colorful, it's fun at times, provides a positive message about acceptance and provides a clever enough high concept to keep the kids on their keesters for 80 minutes. As a rudimentary children's film, you certainly can do worse.
The problem with The Secret Lives of Pets stems from its complete inability to marry story, character and concept into a discernible package. As it stands, the film is rushed, bulky and is chalked full of nonsensical choices that cripples any verdant ideas that could have been. It's a first draft; not a final product.
The story begins with a happy Jack Russell Terrier named Max (C.K.) who lives with his owner Katie (Kemper) in a surprisingly roomy Manhattan apartment. Things change drastically and suddenly with the arrival of Duke (Stonestreet) a large, shaggy Newfoundland whose introduced as a "new brother" to Max's chagrin. They, of course don't get along and after a series of confrontations find themselves lost. The first to notice they're missing is a lovestruck Pomeranian named Gidget (Slate) who recruits the rest of Max's friends among others to recover them from the vast streets of New York City.
The rest of Max's friends are barely worth mentioning as they're mostly utilized to push the buttons and pull the levers on some uninspired comedic set-pieces. They're not really useful to the plot, nor do they succeed in being the Toy Story (1995)-inspired resilient and diverse gaggle the movie hopes they are. Part of the reason for this is none of the side characters actually solve any problems. They jet here, they jet there but when faced with any obstacles they just seem to rush it. Gone is the creativity of having Mr. Potato Head fashion a new body out of a tortilla; now we have elderly Basset Hound, Pops (Carvey) hobbling through construction sites with stalwart confidence.
Frankly focusing on the story's tagged-on villains might have paid more dividends. The broad machinations of Snowball (Hart), a bunny with delusions of grandeur are easily the best part of the film, even if they remain painfully underdeveloped. Additionally his "Flushed Pets" group could have complicated Duke's allegiance to his new owner or more easily pegged Max as a fully socialized pet and therefore in need of re-education. Snowball was the best chance the movie had in getting audiences to truly know the characters we're supposed to be rooting for but instead they blew it on prolonged chase sequences and a sausage factory bit that goes absolutely nowhere.
And that gets me to the biggest problem I have with this film; the creators' approach to the high concept itself. The film tries to have its cake and eat it to, portraying characters with innately human characteristics but still clinging to the charming pet-like idiosyncrasies we know and love about our furry friends. For example, Gidget recruits the help of Tiberius (Brooks) a hawk who at first tries to eat her. She barely escapes his talons only to trust him once more because that's just what a peppy little dog would do. Max's friends Mel (Moynihan) and Buddy (Buress) don't even notice Max is gone because, being dogs, they're distracted by butterflies and squirrels. They're certainly not a rag-tag group of lovable rogues, they're a confederacy of dunces, successful only because of the ever changing allegiances of the main antagonist. Oh yeah, I almost forgot to mention Snowball at one point joins forces with Max to save Duke in a climactic sequence so blithely unnatural it renders the friends search and rescue completely moot.
This film is a rushed, characterless, flavorless kids film that just barely stretches its plot over the skeleton of its story structure. As I said before, if all you're looking for is a bland and forgettable family film, you could do worse. Yet provided it's appealing concept, you'd really think the animation studio that made Despicable Me (2010) could do better.
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