The Secret Life of Pets

So how do reviewer‘s daughters rate recent animated feature films?

The animated feature film market is oversaturated now, with the major studios releasing one seemingly every other week (and in fact, that is the average since Angry Birds came out in May). While that is way too many in my opinion, it does have one benefit: it is helping my kids distinguish between what they think is a good movie and a just okay movie. At this point in their lives, they haven’t truly disliked any movie, but some movies don’t stick.

At this point in their lives, they haven’t truly disliked any movie, but some things don’t stick.

When we go to a movie and sit through six—yes six!—trailers, I can tell which ones they’re going to want to see, though I don’t always know why. The BFG, while it looks good to my 12-year-old and me—and received a positive review here on Media Matters—does not have the cuteness factor that my 10-year-old seems to gravitate towards. The Ice Age movies have never enticed them, maybe because the first one came out before they were born, and because there are five of them that all look the same. We’ve seen the trailer for Moana several times and neither one of them has leaned over and whispered, “I want to see that.”

When sitting through another long preview fest last year, I knew my 10-year-old was going to want to see The Secret Life of Pets. Cuteness factor? Check. Cute, however, only goes so far. My kids tend to like things they haven’t seen before, and Secret Life of Pets showed a bit of promise of what pets really do when their owners go away. The movie, however, doesn’t live up to that promise.

Max (voiced by comedian Louis C. K.) is hopelessly devoted to his owner Katie, but his happy life changes when Katie brings home a huge dog named Duke (Eric Stonestreet from the show Modern Family). Jealousy ensues as each dog tries to be the alpha male. One day, while out for a walk with the neighborhood dog walker, the odd couple finds themselves in a predicament, which leaves the rest of the neighborhood pets to venture out to find their lost friends. Along the way, they meet Snowball (comedian Kevin Hart), a cute bunny with an evil streak. Snowball intends to target domesticated pets and their owners.

We have seen this premise before in animated films, most notably Toy Story, which has better characters, better jokes for adults, and a better moral to the story. Max and Duke are the protagonists, but they’re each one-dimensional and less interesting than the supporting characters. Even the main supporting character, Snowball, becomes grating after a while. So while enjoyable at times, The Secret Life of Pets never gets to the next level.

Studios will continue to churn out animated features because they are box office hits. As of the first weekend of box office numbers, they made up four of the top 10 domestic grossing movies thus far in 2016, with Finding Dory (no. 1), Zootopia (no. 5), Secret Life of Pets (no. 6 and soon to be no. 5), and Kung Fu Panda 3 (no. 10) finding commercial success. That’s not including the live feature version of The Jungle Book, which finds itself in fourth for now.

To better gauge where The Secret Life of Pets fits in terms of quality compared to its predecessors, I asked my kids to compare it to other recent animated movies they’ve seen. In a rare moment in our household, they universally agreed with each other. Which is better: Secret Life or Inside Out? Inside Out. Secret Life or Zootopia? Zootopia. Secret Life or Finding Dory? Finding Dory. Secret Life or The Peanuts Movie? Peanuts. This went on for a while, but it was agreed that Secret Life of Pets was on par with Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur, which is also mildly entertaining but not very memorable. My kids enjoyed The Secret Life of Pets, but I don’t think they’ll ask to see it repeatedly. And their dad is just fine with seeing it once as well.

2.5/4 stars. Rated PG.


All reviews express the opinions of the reviewer, not necessarily the views of Third Way.