ByMatt Kranis, writer at
President of the Salacious Crumb Fan Club. Staff Writer at Movie Pilot. Twitter: @Matt_Kranis
Matt Kranis

Finding Dory may be the biggest animated film of the summer, but its box office domination could come to a close this weekend thanks to The Secret Life of Pets.

The animated film is the latest from Illumination Entertainment, the company behind the Despicable Me franchise, and promises to give audiences a hilarious look at what our pets do all day while we're away from home.

Directed by Chris Renaud and Yarrow Cheney, Pets follows Max (Louis C.K.), a Jack Russell terrier living a comfortable life in New York City with owner Katie (Ellie Kemper). But his cushy lifestyle is jeopardized when Katie adopts new dog Duke (Eric Stonestreet). And after the pair get lost in the city, they're forced to work together in order to get back home. Thankfully, they'll have some help from fellow pets voiced by Jenny Slate, Hannibal Buress, Bobby Moynihan, Lake Bell and plenty more.

With a cast filled with colorful characters and hilarious comedians, Pets is primed to be a huge hit. And most critics are responding pretty well to the film, even if it does feel a bit familiar.

Mixing The Old With The New

A good back rub is the key to happiness.
A good back rub is the key to happiness.

It's pretty easy to see the similarities between The Secret Life of Pets and Pixar's Toy Story, and plenty of critics are making comparisons between the two Pets is still able to bring something fresh to the table. As Variety's Peter Debruge put it:

"The formula may be familiar, but the personalities are completely fresh, yielding a menagerie of loveable — if downright ugly — cartoon critters banding together to help these two incompatible roommates from ending up on the streets."

Similarly, Screencrush's Erin Whitney wasn't bothered by the film's familiar premise:

"There’s nothing new about cute talking animals; they’ve been the center of animated feature films since the earliest days of animation. But in 'The Secret Life of Pets', the old schtick still works."

Thankfully, it sounds like clever comedy and solid performances help elevate the film, even though it doesn't have the most original premise.

More Solid Animation From Illumination

This cat needs to go on a diet.
This cat needs to go on a diet.

Illumination Entertainment's made a name for itself with its unique animation style, bucking the trend of photorealism for something more exaggerated and typically goofy. And once again, Pets shows off that signature feel. The Hollywood Reporter's Jordan Mintzer was certainly pleased by the animation:

"On the technical side, there are some marvels here — especially Renaud’s vision of a vertically exuberant New York City, with skyscrapers stretching beyond the frame and fire escapes leading forever upwards into different apartments and different lives, as if we’re seeing everything from the viewpoint of a dog watching the world of humans from the ground. Likewise, all the details of the furry and feathered cast, including all of the fur itself, are impressively rendered by the Illumination team, who have created a lively and colorful palette that recalls Technicolor films of the 1950s."

MTV News's Amy Nicholson was also a fan, noting that the film's style is almost the polar opposite of Finding Dory:

"Where 'Dory' was saccharine, 'Pets' is anarchic. It’s the difference between Mickey Mouse and Looney Tunes or The Muppets, where crazy creatures take aim at each other with cannons. That sense of play infects the animation, which favors fun over photo-realism."

It's Not A Standout Adventure

Kevin Hart voices evil bunny Snowball in the film.
Kevin Hart voices evil bunny Snowball in the film.

While most critics seems to appreciate Illumination's animation as well as the film's voice cast, those elements don't necessarily add up for the most memorable experience. The New York Times's A.O. Scott felt the film had the potential to be much better than the end result:

"'The Secret Life of Pets' is adequate animated entertainment, amusing while it lasts but not especially memorable except as a catalog of compromises and missed opportunities."

In his Los Angeles Times review, Justin Chang displayed more negative feelings on the film, citing its familiar elements as the story's biggest problem:

"Arriving in the dog days of an unusually mediocre summer for big-studio entertainments, the picture is a glorified hairball pulled together from the strands of better, more appealing movies and then noisily coughed up and disgorged at a multiplex near you."

The Secret Life of Pets may not have the emotional weight or complexity of some other animated films, but in the end the film's bombastic visual style and clever comedy should win over most audiences. We're definitely excited to see what exactly our pets have been up to all this time.

The Secret Life of Pets is in theaters now. Do you plan on seeing Illumination Entertainment's latest feature? Let us know in the comments.

[Sources: Variety, Screencrush, The Hollywood Reporter, MTV News, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times]


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