Saturday, 18 June 2016

Review: The Secret Life of Pets

The Secret Life of Pets (2D)
Cert: U / 91 mins / Dir. Yarrow Cheney & Chris Renaud / Trailer

It seems like we've waited for ages since the first teaser trailer for The Secret Life of Pets landed. I was pretty much sold on that one alone, even though it only set the tone of the comedy, leaving the plot open to speculation. So the day is finally here, and I'm even happier to report that a) all of those visual gags made the final cut and b) they're all in the first five minutes, so we get them in the context of the movie, but we're not sitting waiting for them to land (a bugbear with most comedy flicks, to be fair).

Illumination Entertainment's summer tent-pole opens with a five-minute Minions short, which is essentially a solidified slapstick episode, and exactly what the little yellow critters do best. It sets the mood well for the main event, which is consistently funny and charming in equal measure. Following the adventure of Max and Duke, an odd-couple of canines living with their owner in a Manhattan apartment-block. When they become separated from their regular life, friends and acquaintances of various species from the neighbouring apartments come together and lead a rescue mission which will take them to the mean streets of Brooklyn and back. There's action, danger, bonding and just maybe a tear or two, but above all... laughs.

The film's U-rating means that audiences of all ages should have no problem enjoying it, and the script stays well away from double-entendres that play to the older and younger crowds simultaneously. And while that's a comedic technique I certainly enjoy, I also admire the commitment to write a script which is laugh-out-loud funny for everyone, and on the same level. Between the scripted and the visual jokes, there's not a lot of downtime (and there's also the finest non-copyright-infringing Super Mario reference you'll see in any film this year).

Louis CK and Eric Stonestreet lead the pack as the squabbling dogs, backed up ably by a voice-cast as enthusiastic as the animation team. Jenny Slate, Lake Bell and Ellie Kemper coolly threaten to steal the show at any moment, as does Mr Kevin Hart*1.

If there's one weak-spot, it would be that the storyline itself feels a little linear (all the more notable since three writers are attached). The gaps are more than patched over by the constant stream of gags and character-work, but it's debatable if the film will withstand more than a couple of viewings (which could be a problem if you have small padawans who won't be as narratively critical once it hits DVD and streaming).

But, most importantly, The Secret Life of Pets is an enormous amount of fun. That's the only bar the film sets for itself, and one which it clears easily…

So, watch this if you enjoyed?
Minions, Angry Birds, Toy Story.

Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
For the communal experience of hearing a room full of people laughing together? Sure.

Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
It does.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Always difficult to tell with animation and voice-work, but it's a high-point for the CV, yes.

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
I just might.
If you don't laugh at this movie you're clearly a monster

Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There certainly is.

Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: The Secret Life of Pets features the voice-work of Lake Bell, who starred in Man Up with Simon 'Dengar/Unkar' Pegg.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 Yeah, don't tell anyone that I've really enjoyed a Kevin Hart movie, okay? Don't worry, Central Intelligence comes out soon; I'm sure that will reset the scales of critical judgement…

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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