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.
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.