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Feature


Max (Louis C.K.) is a loyal terrier living a perfectly happy existence until his owner, Katie (Ellie Kemper), brings home Duke (Eric Stonestreet): a big, boisterous mutt she finds at the shelter. When Max and his unruly new “roommate” slip away from their dog-walker, they find themselves lost in the urban jungle of New York City. In an attempt to stay ahead of animal control and a rebel band of abandoned pets led by an unhinged bunny named Snowball (Kevin Hart), they put aside their differences to survive the epic journey back home. (From Universal’s official synopsis)

 Secret Life of Pets, The
2016 will be remembered for many things, most of them depressing. What will most likely be forgotten amongst the waves of political upheaval and intense discussions about inclusion in popular media is the strange rise of movies with anthropomorphic CG animals. While superhero epics certainly continue to drive the international box office, seven of the year’s twenty biggest movies – Finding Dory, Zootopia, The Jungle Book, Kung Fu Panda 3, Ice Age: Collision Course, The Angry Birds Movie, and the subject of this review, Chris Renaud & Yarrow Cheney’s The Secret Life of Pets – revolved around this oddly specific subject matter (note that Dreamworks’ Sing hadn’t been released at the time that I wrote this). Two of these movies also feature voice work from Albert Brooks, which, I’m sure, is just a coincidence. I haven’t seen all of the movies on this list, but I’m willing to guess that Secret Life of Pets is the least ambitious of the bunch.

Directors Renaud & Cheney are Illumination Entertainment mainstays who worked their way up from production design and story artists to director positions (this is Renaud’s fourth feature as director and Cheney’s first). They adhere to the studio’s tried and true gag-heavy formula, which is great for action and comedy, but not so great for narrative complexity. If the story (credited to Brian Lynch, Cinco Paul, and Ken Daurio) sounds sort of familiar, that’s because the writers have taken the basic skeleton of Toy Story, removed the nuance, and replaced all of the toys with pets (it’s not the only thing they borrowed from Pixar – there are also elements from Finding Nemo and the antagonistic bunny, Snowball, looks exactly like the rabbit from the Presto short). Considering the film’s episodic, low attention span structure, the lack of originality isn’t really that distressing. If we take The Secret Life of Pets one gag at a time, it’s pretty cute. It’s sort of like a bunch of wacky Youtube pet videos strung together with a Chuck Jones twist. The simple recipe is punctuated by bold action sequences (one borrowed from The Lost World: Jurassic Park) that I’m sure looked spectacular on the big screen in 3D.

 Secret Life of Pets, The

Video


The Secret Life of Pets was completely constructed within the computer and designed for both 2D and 3D digital projection. This review pertains to the standard-issue, 1080p, 2D Blu-ray, which is framed at 1.85:1 (kind of a surprise, considering how often animated movies are framed at 1.78:1 these days). There isn’t a whole lot to say about this transfer, other than it looks as clean and vibrant as you’d expect from a CG cartoon for children. I suppose it’s worth noting that this is a particular plush picture, from the soft textures of the animals’ exaggerated fur to the slightly hazy focus qualities. Despite a general lack of hard lines, the character and location designs still exhibit considerably complex patterns; all without any notable compression issues. Colour quality is eclectic and incredibly vivid throughout the movie, even when the characters wander into dingy sewers and onto dark streets. This vibrancy is punched up by highly dynamic brightness levels that sometimes blows-out the white levels (the Pomeranian and rabbit tend to glow). I assume this is an intended effect.

Audio


The Secret Life of Pets is presented in Dolby Atmos sound with a core TrueHD 7.1 track, which is what I’ll be reviewing here. It’s a busy mix for the most part, though not as aggressive as other recent CG animation opuses. The sound designers tend to put an emphasis on music and dialogue, which means that the effects work leans subtle and sparse, even during some of the bigger action sequences. The effects that are included are neatly integrated and include some sweeping, zippy directional cues. Alexandre Desplat’s whimsical, jazzy score elevates the material, especially during action/chase sequences, where it becomes the primary aural element. The classical themes sound rich, the horns pop, and the percussion gives the LFE a nice boost. There are also loads of pop source music, all of which sounds great.

 Secret Life of Pets, The

Extras


  • Mini-Movies:
    • Norman Television (4:01, HD) – Norman the guinea pig watches his human neighbors through the heating vents.
    • Weenie (4:05, HD) – A sentient hot dog learns the value of the word ‘weenie.’
    • Mower Minions (4:27, HD) – The Despicable Me Minions mow local lawns for money.
    • The Making of the Mini-Movies (7:23, HD) – A glimpse behind-the-scenes of the three shorts with the filmmakers and company bosses.
  • The Humans that Brought You Pets (8:43, HD) – Five ‘meet the team’ featurettes, including producers Chris Meledandri & Janet Healy, directors Renaud & Cheney, and writer Brian Lynch.
  • Animals Can Talk: Meet the Actors (3:47, HD) – A quick casting and voice acting featurette.
  • All About the Pets (6:26, HD) – Actors Kevin Hart and Eric Stonestreet interact with a series of household pets with the help of animal trainer, Molly Mignon O’Neill (the joke is that Stonestreet gets all the cute animals and Hart gets the scary ones).
  • Hairstylist to the Dogs (3:41, HD) – Stonestreet visits pet groomer to the stars, Jess Rona, and learns how to do a dog do.
  • How to Make an Animated Film (4:31, HD) – A general behind-the-scenes look at the various departments that make up Illumination Entertainment.
  • Anatomy of a Scene (4:46, HD) – The filmmakers and animators breakdown the multi-step process it takes to create a specific scene.
  • The Best of Snowball (1:15, HD) – A montage of Hart’s one-liners.
  • “Lovely Day” animated music video with on-screen lyrics (2:23, HD)
  • Hot Dog Sing-Along (1:12, HD) – The hot dog factory hallucination sequence with on-screen lyrics.
  • The Fandango Pets promos starring the Minions (:53, :57, :55, HD)
  • GoPro: The Secret Life of Pets (2:04, HD) – An ad for GoPro, in which the animated characters reenact stunts while wearing the cameras.
  • Trailers for other Universal releases


 Secret Life of Pets, The

Overall


The Secret Life of Pets is shallow entertainment, built on the success of more thoughtful entertainment. It’s not a ‘good’ movie, by any means. But, it is cute, funny in parts, and features some pretty impressive action sequences. I’ve seen much worse from simplistic kids movies and can’t imagine any adults being offended by its brand of simplicity. Universal’s Blu-ray looks spectacular and sounds very nice, despite its more subtle mix. The light extras, headed by three original shorts, will probably appeal to children.

 Secret Life of Pets, The

 Secret Life of Pets, The

 Secret Life of Pets, The
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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