The Secret Life Of Pets
Pet owners, or rather from their perspective, their servants, naturally wonder just what goes on when they are left alone. Recently we had a remote controlled thermostat, and one of the options included in the household control system was a motion activate video camera listed as a means to make your covert pet videos. Considering the astronomical number of cat and dog videos available on all forms of social media, this desire to know what our pets are doing when we are away is pondered by a sizable portion of the population. One of the latest films from Universal Studios tapping into this well-documented trend. Coincidentally, several of the major studios have been investing increasing amounts of capital and resources on family friendly animated films . Lately, they have the additional objective of creating 3-D, the two dominant players, Dreamworks and the perennial favorite, Pixar/Disney, have created an environment of creative completion engendering circumstances highly conducive to pushing the situation to ever expanding heights of achievement that ultimately makes for higher standards and better entertainment. For the latest contender to enter the arena, Universal Studios are distributing the labors of their new animation partners, Illumination Entertainment. Previously their most noteworthy contribution to the pervading popular culture has been the ‘Despicable Me’ franchise. At this point, they still lack the panache of Dreamworks or the inherent humanity infused in Pixar productions. Since Illumination Entertainment is still in the early stages of their learning curve, they remain reliant on attempting to deconstruct the masterpieces of the current grandmasters to understand better the methodology that made their films so extraordinarily popular. To this end, they retooled one of the most influential animated features to affect the zeitgeist of the generation. The result of the product of this endeavor started with one of the most iconic animated franchises, ‘Toy Story.' The opportunity that began with the highly marketable items designed for their cute appeal, and subsuming the other tradition means of generating warm and fuzzy feelings, household pets.
The story unfolds in one of the best places to be a pampered pet, a reasonably upscale neighborhood in Manhattan. The humans are sufficiently stable financially to dote on their pets but still contained in the economic bracket requiring regular absences for work. Within the contextual fantasy of this premise, these conditions are high advantageous for the antics required to propel the story forward. The primary protagonist is a Jack Russel Terrier, Max (voiced by Louis C.K.) who resides with his human, Kate (voiced by Ellie Kemper). The juxtaposition of voice talent is demonstrative of the producer’s requirement of attempting to appeal to multiple demographics. Mr., C.K., is known for his blue stand-up routines and his mature-themed series. In contrast, Ms. Kemper has recently increased her audience visibility with the Tina Fey comedy on Netflix, ‘Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt .' Old school comedians such as Albert Brooks are performing beside current cast members of ‘Saturday Night Live,' Bobby Moynihan. While Kate is out of the apartment Max hangs out with other pets in the building, tabby cat Chloe (voice of Lake Bell), pug Mel (voiced by Bobby Moynihan), dachshund Buddy (voiced by Hannibal Buress), and parakeet, Sweetpea. From the perspective of Max, life has sweet; that is until one day when Kate comes home with a surprise. She has rescued a dog; Duke (voiced by Eric Stonestreet) the new dog in the apartment is larger than most apartment pets. My late wife and I used to take in rescued cats, and the main motivation point here routed in reality. The addition does tend to incite feelings of jealousy over the attention of the human. Many might attribute this to anthropomorphizing the behavior but it a true depiction of the reaction. Usually, the focus of stories of this nature is the original reacting to the ‘interloper’ but in an appreciated twist from the expected. Duke is the one to act. While outside on one of their jaunts Duke attempts to have, Max becomes lost in an alley. Duke’smotivation is the fear that if returned he will be euthanized. This is an action typically not found in any story targeting a youthful audience.
The potentially overly mature themes continue when Max and Duke are accosted by a street gang consisting of feral cats led by a Sphynx cat Ozone (voiced by Steve Coogan). I realize that my initial impression of the central themes underestimates the ability of kids to safely process topics like gang violence and putting animals down. The only impact this observation might have would occur while watching the movie with your families. In this instance the parents might find the material more disturbing than their children, the situation for Max and Duke become severe when the cats remove their collars and tags, the Animal Control people will erroneously assume they were strays whisking them off to the pound. Fortunately, the pair of pooches is rescued by a rabbit named Snowball (voiced by Kevin Hart), the leader of "The Flushed Pets." They reside in the sewers as a band of discarded pets. Snowball mistreated as a research subject managed to escape. The dogs pretend to despise people to gain protection by joining their ranks. The test necessary to become part of their gang they must allow themselves to be bitten by one fang python.
Meanwhile back at the apartment building, Gidget (voiced by Jenny Slate), a white Pomeranian who has a crush on Max. When she realizes, he is missing and immediately engages the services of Tiberius (voiced by Albert Brooks), a red-tailed hawk to find him. For those not from New York City there are several species of hawks and other raptors that live in the crevasses of the tall, Manhattan buildings. A ground-based search party is assembled that includes several other animals such as Pops (voiced by Dana Carvey), a paralyzed old basset hound that uses a makeshift wagon for mobility. The third act progresses to a degree of drama and conflict that is rather intense, but by this point, I realize that the purpose of the film is to engage both parents and children without talking down to the younger viewers or being overly artificial for the sake of the grownups. All too frequently adults are kept interested in family films by including jokes, sight gags and Easter eggs that seem innocuous enough for the kids but prompt a chuckle from the parents. Attempting to blaze a different way to proceed, the filmmakers decided to create a movie that intrinsically contains realistic themes and allow the grown-ups and their kids to work things out together. The current paradigm for many types of movies is the use of Real 3D. The filmmaker demonstrated a better than usual particularly regarding how the illusion of depth. It is relatively easy to use 3D in action sequences but what truly matters is how it contributes to the overall act of telling the story. This is where it falls a bit short. We are so used to the excellence of Pixar that our expectations. Overall the 3D was capable but not quite spectacular.