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‘THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS’ LEAVES YOU PANTING

Several people have told me how much they like the trailer for this movie; I don’t wonder. It’s so jam-packed with gags there are more than enough to supply a high-energy preview. But while the finished product is likable it’s also frenetic and uses up its good will before the end credits finally arrive.

What puts The Secret Life of Pets on-target from the beginning is the clever and appealing character design by Eric Guillon. The various dogs and cats in the leading roles are inherently amusing and even irresistible. Guillon is also the film’s production designer, and his stylized rendering of Manhattan is truly impressive.

The screenplay is sharp and funny, at least for a while. This is the work of Illumination Entertainment’s team of Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio, who were responsible for Despicable Me and its Minion-dominated sequels, along with Brian Lynch. Directors Yarrow Cheney and Chris Renaud are also Illumination regulars with plenty of Minion experience.

But The Secret Life of Pets doesn’t know when to hold back—or quit. The basic story isn’t bad: a terrier mix named Max has a special relationship with his owner until she brings home another mutt named Duke and hopes they’ll get along. Max feels betrayed and becomes highly territorial, but during their daily walk they get loose and find themselves in so much trouble that the only way to survive is to work together.

The characters are so well defined that I wasn’t thinking about who was providing their voices. As it happens, Louis C.K., Eric Stonestreet, Kevin Hart, Steve Coogan, Jenny Slate, Ellie Kemper, Albert Brooks, Lake Bell, Dana Carvey, and Hannibal Buress do a fine job as actors rather than imposing their personalities on the animals to whom they give voice.

Duke-Katie-Max

(Courtesy of Universal Pictures)

But the war that erupts between our heroes and a grungy menagerie of abandoned pets who live in the sewers turns highly unpleasant and revs up the already-kinetic energy level, further fueled by Alexandre Desplat’s driving score.

To be fair, there are plenty of funny moments. Kids will almost certainly be entertained, but showing them this movie may be the cinematic equivalent of feeding them too much sugar. Parents may have to take drastic measures to calm them down afterwards.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at leonardmaltin.com. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

2 comments

  1. Paul Haas says:

    Do you not rate films in your online reviews the way you do in your books?

  2. Byron Argiri says:

    I “discovered” Leonard Maltin’s Film Guide books in the early 90s and through the last volume in 2015. I join all movie fans to tell you that we hope you will sooner than soon erect a website to review and rate movies

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