Reel Talk

The Secret Life of Pets is Forgettable Fun

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We’ve had a pretty crappy couple of months, haven’t we? The world seems like a total mess, in ways that seem even worse than they’ve been in my entire life. That’ll probably not shake out later, since I’m sure most times are crappy, but it sure seems like we’ve been in a rough place. I don’t really talk about stuff that’s actually going on in the world here, this is kind of my happy place, but it can be hard sometimes. Having a place where I can rant about anything I want does kind of make me want to talk all about the glut of police murdering unarmed black men, the dumpster-fire of an election, or any of the other horrors going on, but that’s not really my place. I’m not qualified to talk about that stuff. But I see a lot of movies, read a lot of books and comics, and watch a lot of TV. Those are the areas that I feel comfortable rambling about. And in times like this, I feel like I tend to gravitate towards distraction. When the world is so miserable and depressing, it’s not really the time to watch gripping dramas about the Holocaust or something. I tend to stick with something light and fluffy in that time. Yeah, it may not be the most serious thing to do, but sometimes you just want some fun. So after this incrediblly bleak and miserable week we all just endured, I decided to go check out the new animated flick, the Secret Life of Pets.

And it was okay. Nothing special, but it was cute, and fun, and helped lighten the mood for a bit. The plot of the movie is really simple. It opens up with a woman named Katie, and her dog Max. They have a happy life, in New York City, just the two of them. The other pets in the building they live in like to hang out, mingle, and talk about their owners when they leave for work, and things are just happy. Until one day Katie brings home a new dog from the pound, Duke, and it shatters their little world. Max is instantly upset and jealous, wanting everything to go back to the way things were. But that’s just not going to happen, even when he does his best to plot Duke’s downfall by staging some broken vases. And things just get worse when a dog-walker shows up to take them and all the other dogs in the building out to the park. Because when they get there, Duke decides he’s sick of little Max, and takes him out of the park, and into a dirty alley to get rid of him. Where they’re promptly attacked by some psychotic cats who steal their collars, and get them caught by some dog-catchers.

So things aren’t going well, and they get worse when a group of insane, militant animals show up, lead by the rabbit Snowball. He’s there to bust out of of his gang-members, a dog trapped in the van along with Duke and Max. And after lying to Snowball that they’re vicious killers who murdered their owner, Snowball springs them, and takes them down to his weird sewer compound with the rest of this army of discarded pets. Meanwhile, some of the other pets from Max’s building have noticed that he’s gone, and band together with the help of a hawk and an ancient old bloodhound to go track Max down. We then get a bunch of wacky scenes where the apartment pets make their way around the city, and Max and Duke do their best to flee Snowball and find their way home. They take a pitstop at a hotdog factory and even try to find Duke’s old owner, only to find that he’s died. And all the plots converge on the Brooklyn bridge, with Max saving Duke from the dog-catchers again, the apartment pets fighting the militant pets, and Max working with Snowball. And in the end, everything’s fine. Max and Duke have become friends, and agree to be brothers, Snowball gets adopted despite smelling like a sewer, and all the apartment pets are closer friends.

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So yeah, the movie certainly wasn’t mind-blowing. We live in a time where animated movies have really been hitting a new high point, with the wonderful stuff Pixar is putting out, but there’s always going to be movies more like this, that aren’t really aiming for anything too grand. It’s just a simple cartoon story. It’s kind of about brotherhood I suppose, and the idea of kids not wanting to share the love of their parents with a new sibling, but there really wasn’t anything too deep in the movie. It was just a fun little cartoon about pets doing cute things. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I feel like this company, Illumination, is kind of nailing this middle of the road approach. I actually really like the first Despicable Me movie, before it just became the Minion show, and it was nice to see them try something that didn’t involve those annoying little ear plugs. But in the end, things were fine. It satisfied a certain itch. There was some solid Chuck Jones-esque animation gags and some genuinely funny moments mixed with some adorable moments that seemed perfectly crafted to pray on the emotions of people who love their dogs, and sometimes that’s all we need. Not every movie needs to be some moving work of art. Sometimes we just need a fun little cartoon about dogs learning to be friends, and while this movie isn’t going to linger in my mind very long, and will probably fade away rather quickly, it was a fun little ride while it lasted, and I appreciate the joy it briefly brought to me.

The Secret Life of Pets was written by Brian Lynch, Cinco Paul, and Ken Daurio, was directed by Chris Renaud and Yarrow Cheney, and distributed by Universal Picuters, 2016.

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