“Any plans today?”
“Yes. Big, big stuff today, Gidget. I got big plans. I’m gonna sit here and I’m gonna wait for Katie to come back.”
Audiences get something they really love. Pets and lots of them. Creators take audiences into the pet world by allowing them to see what pets would do when their owners are gone while adding their voices. This funny animated adventure is currently the fifth highest grossing movie of 2016 and packs in plenty of content for audiences to expand their experience on home video.
Set in New York, the beginning sequence offer a prime example of why filmmakers create animated works. You cannot get these shots, views, and results in real life, plus you immediately immerse the audience into a created world filled with color, style, constant action, and fast paced humor.
Dogs take the alpha position in the story with Louis C.K. (TV’s Louie) starring as Max, a Jack Russell Terrier. Owner Katie, voiced by Ellie Kemper (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Netflix series, The Office TV series), brings Max together with Duke, voiced by Eric Stonestreet (TV’s Modern Family), a large, shaggy brown mongrel.
Kevin Hart (Ride Along) voices Snowball, an adorable white rabbit who is the closest thing this movie comes to an antagonist. “Who are we? We are the Flushed Pets. Abandoned by our owners, and now we’re out for revenge! It’s like a club, but with biting and scratching,” says Snowball, who has an uncanny similarity to the rabbit in the 2008 Pixar animated short Presto. Hart puts in a maniacal performance with energy and comedy that holds the audience’s attention and fits the quick, short scenes. He even gets his own montage in the bonus features.
Lake Bell voices Chloe the grey tabby cat while Kevin Coogan voices Himalayan cat Reginald and the wiry, but fearless Sphynx cat Ozone. Albert Brooks (Finding Dory) voices a red-tailed hawk named Tiberius. Max’s friends include a dachshund voiced by Hannibal Burress, a pug voiced by Bobby Moynihan, and a white Pomeranian named Gidget voiced by Jenny Slate (Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked, The Obvious Child).
Slate is a standout among an incredibly well cast voice talent list, which also includes Sweetpea the Parrot and Norman the guinea pig, voiced by director/actor Chris Renaud (Despicable Me). Dana Carvey is another stand out as Pops the elderly basset hound who has numerous connections and useful contacts throughout the city and delivers some of the funniest dialogue. “This is uh, Puffball, Squashface, Weiner Dog, Yellow Bird, Eagle Eye, Guinea Pig Joe! And of course my girlfriend, Rhonda!” says Pops.
The story moves too fast to really develop well. Creators even insert a dream sequence with sausages. The music is the key transition tool that advances the action. Composer Alexander Desplat should get an Oscar® nomination for his musical score. It’s memorable jazzy and compliments the settings and characters perfectly. Familiar songs fill the soundtrack and include “Bounce” performed by System of a Down, “Stayin’ Alive” performed by N-Trance, and the memorable opener “Welcome to New York” performed by Taylor Swift. Home video owners can also enjoy the “Lovely Day” lyric video and hot dog sing-along to “We Go Together.”
My copy included a Blu-Ray, DVD, and digital copy with English, French, and Spanish audio options and subtitle text options plus Dolby TrueHD 7.1 audio. An Ultraviolet code for streaming and download plus a bonus code for a free movie (I chose the classic To Kill a Mockingbird) is also included.
The bonus features include three great mini-movies. Two expand this movie’s characters a bit. “NormanTV” shows the guinea pig multiple views of the world through the air vents in his apartment building while “Weenie” predictably expand the separate sausage world.
The best short is hilarious and involves the famous minions. “Mower Minions” was originally the pre-show short and really delivers the laughs.
No commentary track to get some insight while the seven and one half-minute “Making of the Mini-Movies” gives great insight in collaboration, creativity, and even competition. “The Humans That Brought You Pets” interview feature lets creators talk about their pet experiences. “Animals Can Talk” features the voice talent cast Stonestreet, Bell, Hart, Moynihan, and Slate.
Blu-ray exclusive bonus features include “How to Make Animated Films,” which was too short at a little over four minutes, and “Anatomy of a Scene” that expand the crew’s roles where audiences can learn a lot.
The “Brian the Minion on Pets” bonus feature borrows the Mystery Science Theater 3000 format as this minion watches and reacts to scenes from the movie. Other bonuses include a four-minute preview to Illumination’s next animated feature Sing that reveals too much of the story and one that mixes GoPro extreme sports footage with character analogues.
The Secret Life of Pets definitely gets points for originality, which also paid off as it became the first $100 million dollar plus U.S. opening that was not a sequel nor based on previously published material. It’s also a reminder of the business of movies and the challenge of creating a profitable franchise that is thriving this holiday season with countless toy and stuffed animals based on this movie.
Illumination Entertainment seems to be more focused on just making kids laugh instead of spending enough time to develop the characters that creates some substance and genuine emotion. Be sure to watch for the extra scenes during and after the ending credits. This entertaining movie comes recommended with reservations (*** out of five stars without the bonus features) and rated PG for action and some rude humor.