Pets! What do they do all day? Universal’s animation arm, Illumination Entertainment, has bravely tackled this exact question with its newest offering, “The Secret Life of Pets.” Directed by Chris Renaud and Yarrow Cheney, the film features an all-star cast of very funny voice talent, from Louis C.K. to Kevin Hart, Jenny Slate to Hannibal Burress, Lake Bell to Ellie Kemper and many, many more to tell the story of some house pets who go decidedly off the leash on a frisky adventure that pits them against a wily pack of unhappy animals. Here’s hoping for a happy ending.
The film recently bowed at the Annecy International Animation Film Festival, where a bevy of outlets were chomping at the bit to get a first look at pets, being secret, having lives and all that jazz. In our review, critic Ben Croll writes, “this summer’s biggest, wildest action flick is… about talking dogs,” add that the film “moves like a bat out of hell from frame one, though if you’re looking for any kind of emotion you might be barking up the wrong tree.” Still, Croll seems overall pleased with the spectacle, giving it a B- rating.
Over at Variety, Peter DeBruge comes out similarly entertained (but not emotionally moved), writing in his review that “while the Illumination formula invites far more humor into the mix than the relatively emotion-driven Pixar approach, diving headlong into such comic set pieces as the fantasy sequence where Max and Duke visit the Sausage Kingdom factory, the studio still hasn’t quite figured out how to sell the sentimental side.” He adds, “at times, ‘The Secret Life of Pets’ feels like watching a marathon of silly animal tricks on YouTube, when what we really want is to transported into the heads of those creatures who’ve brought such joy to our own lives and to experience that connection through their eyes.”
At Screen International, Wendy Ide finds slightly more to love. She writes, “While the trajectory of the story holds few surprises and the plot does owe a lot to other films, the quality of execution is high. The animation is a touch lurid but the action is crisp and the timing is impeccable. There is enough here to appeal to most sections of the audience, be they young or old; dog people or cat fanciers.”
Jordan Mintzer of The Hollywood Reporter didn’t go hog-wild for the film, however. He amusingly wrote, “Funny in stretches but capable of making you feel like you’ve dropped MDMA and locked yourself inside Petco for several hours, this big-ticket Universal release should play like catnip for kids starting summer vacation…Like the professional dogwalker who can’t exactly keep count of Max and his cohorts, it feels like the filmmakers are juggling too many chatty creatures at once, while trying to maintain a plot that tends to grow more outlandish as the story progresses.”
“The Secret Life of Pets” opens in theaters on Friday, July 8.