When many people heard about “The Secret Life of Pets,” they assumed it was merely a “Toy Story” knockoff. While both films have similar story elements, other variables differ.
“The Secret Life of Pets” has a plot that surrounds the idea of what pets do when their owners are away. Some chug out of toilet bowls, some eat entire chickens, some listen to heavy metal, and some just wait by the door until their owners get back. The main protagonist is Max (voiced by Louis C.K.), a spoiled terrier, who lives with his owner Katie (voiced by Ellie Kemper) in a Manhattan apartment complex. Max is devoted to Katie and waits by the front door for her everyday until she comes back, much to the dismay of the other pets in his complex. One evening Katie brings home a dog named Duke (voiced by Eric Stonestreet) and Max starts to worry that his perfect life with Katie will end. He tries his hardest to get rid of Duke until they both find themselves lost in the wrong part of town and get caught by a dog catcher. However, they are saved by a rabbit named Snowball (voiced by Kevin Hart). Snowball is the leader of a society of abandoned animals known as the Flushed Pets. In order to get on Snowball’s good side, Max and Duke lie about killing their owner. They are soon exposed and Snowball and his gang are out to get them.
Despite its premise, “The Secret Life of Pets” is able to remain its own movie mainly because of its tone and characters. Compared to “Toy Story,” the characters in this movie are not overly complex and are actually very simple and based on archetypes that have been seen before: the energetic dog, the sassy cat, the spoiled Pomeranian/poodle. The characters do not try to be larger-than-life. The only characters that show some complexity are Duke and Snowball, although Duke lacks Snowball’s charisma. The simple characterization works at first to drive the plot along but after one leaves the theater, they realize that the only Chatterton that they can remember is Snowball. With Toy Story, every character had struggles and nuances. If someone were to ask us to name five Toy Story characters, we would probably name eight.
When it comes to tone, “The Secret Life of Pets” does not take itself seriously. There are at most two emotional scenes and everything else is peppered with comedy. This works if you are looking for a fun movie to watch, but it is disappointing if you are looking for something emotional. The not-so-serious tone affects the plot because it allows the film to have twists that no one would predict because they are so illogical. The tone also affects the animations. This is a very colorful film with warm, bright color filling up every scene.
This film is fun and will entertain most people. It may not be a cinematic masterpiece but it has a few things going for it, like its comedy and animation. It is able to remain a unique movie and does not feel the need to copy off of other films. If anyone is looking to laugh for an hour and a half, I recommend “The Secret Life of Pets.”