Stepping away from the amusing but not exactly articulate Minions, Illumination Entertainment is back with some quality animation in The Secret Life of Pets. Chris Renaud, who has previously co-directed the Despicable Me films, teams up with Yarrow Cheney (in his feature debut) as co-directors. Set in the most beautiful version of Manhattan you’re likely to see, we bear witness to a day in the life of the pets in an apartment building. Front and centre is Max (voiced by Louis C.K.), a Jack Russell who desperately waits for his owner Katie (Ellie Kemper) to return each day from work.
When Katie brings home another much bigger (and hence cuddlier) dog, Duke (Eric Stonestreet), Max isn’t happy. During a walk to the park by a dog-walker they get lost from the group and meet the dark side of the animal kingdom: the unwanted pets, all the while being pursued by animal catchers. The remaining pets of the building, led by Pomeranian, Gidget (Jenny Slate) join forces to save Max and Duke in time for their owners’ return.
TSLOP involves some hilarious portrayals of domestic animals (mostly dogs) – some of which ring very true and others that challenge the status quo. It’s hard to say which is funnier, but seeing a poodle head-banging to System of a Down is gold. Kevin Hart as a gangster bunny rabbit with an urge to kill is also good value. The cats get the raw end of the stick in terms of how they’re represented; presumably the writers (Cinco Paul, Ken Daurio, Brian Lynch, and Simon Rich) are most certainly dog people. Then again, how else can you portray a cat being anything other than lazy or feral? (Sorry, cat lovers).
This isn’t merely a day in the life of a pet’s comfortable home life – there is adventure to be had of course. But the film does offer a glimpse into what a pet could get up to, and should delight all pet owners. The ending is particularly touching in terms of the relationship between pet and owner. It seems fitting to make Louis C.K. and Eric Stonestreet the two lovable dogs, and the casting team have done well. Jenny Slate is a highlight as the Pomeranian who this reviewer spent half the film thinking was a cat. Whoops.
The animation is on point and Manhattan is presented as an innocent and mesmerising place – there is not a speck of dirt in sight. This is a Manhattan made for kids. Parents should be warned, however, that it does get a little dark in places. There’s talk of killing the humans… by using a blender. There’s also an innocent musical dream sequence at a factory concerning sausages, and it’s hard not to think of the recent and very vulgar adult animated film, Sausage Party. But one thing’s for sure – if your kid wants to see some dancing sausages, TAKE THEM TO THIS.
In addition to a fun soundtrack, the score by Alexandre Desplat makes TSLOP an absolute joy. Perfect for its New York setting, the film is accompanied by jazzy tones that bring the film close to utopia (well, if you ignore the homicidal tendencies of the unwanted pets). Despite the trials and tribulations of the day during which it is set, TSLOP portrays a world where it’s always sunny, buddies band together, and all is right with the world. It’s perfect for kids, and a welcome reprieve for adults too.
The Secret Life of Pets is in cinemas from 8th September through Universal Pictures.