The Secret Life of Pets – Wonderfully woven plot, dynamic characters and strong jokes

TheSecretLifePets_1.jpgFrom the producers of Despicable Me, The Lorax and Minions comes another family-friendly animated film in this story about a terrier named Max whose quiet life is upended when his owner takes in Duke, a stray mutt whom Max instantly dislikes. With vibrant animation and a great cast, this is one you can share with your entire family. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Willie J. comments, “This film will not dazzle you with a wonderfully woven plot, but it will undoubtedly entertain you with dynamic characters and strong jokes that land more often than not.” See his full review below.

The Secret Life of Pets
By Willie Jones, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 16

Let the debates begin and if they haven’t begun, allow me to start: Zootopia or The Secret Life of Pets? – two acclaimed comedic animated movies featuring talking animals. Well, I’d like to throw in my opinion – The Secret Life of Pets, while less cleverly plotted, is much better written and animated. This film will not dazzle you with a wonderfully woven plot, but it will undoubtedly entertain you with dynamic characters and strong jokes that land more often than not.

The day of New York City misadventures for Max and the newly picked up Duke, is reminiscent of those zany 50s and 60s comedies. Without coincidence, those decades were very popular for films set in the “City that Never Sleeps”, partiSecretPets.g.jpgcularly for comedies. Jokes about hipsters moving to Brooklyn and New York City alleyways are featured in the film, paying homage to the city. But even better than that, are the beautiful shots of New York City in this film. It would give the opening scene in Manhattan a run for its money. The cinematography in this film is absolutely gorgeous, worthy of being full sized paintings to hang on your wall. Master shots include New York City at night with the lights from the moon and the buildings illuminating the city, aerial shots of the city in the daytime with beautiful weather and an air of inspiration. The images captured in this film are among some of the best of any animated feature ever and I’ve no issue saying that.

But, the imagery isn’t the best part of the movie. Naturally, its the characters of the film. For a comedy of this nature to be successful, the writer/s must come up with strong characters who make strong choices. So the jokes end up bolder and have a higher probability of landiSecretPets.d.jpgng. This movie is filled with those. Archetypes pervade the movie  such as the longing ingénue, the idiotic gang leader, the fearless elder and the neurotic straight man (the main character). These familiar characters were popular in comedies during the 50s and 60s and further highlight the style of film this is, which is quite refreshing. As a matter of fact, the relationship between Duke and Max is reminiscent of Walter Matthau (Duke) and Max (Jack Lemmon), who were a successful duo in cinema in the 50s and 60s. This film is so much like others of that era, I can see Billy Wilder directing this.

Lastly, and what impressed me most, is the score. It is an up tempo, lighthearted score. But, what makes it so impressive is how often it is used. In today’s comedies, a score isn’t used often. Because we’re in an age of off-beat, dry comedy, an accompanying score ruins the tone and wipes away the awkwardness. This film uses the score like those comedies of the 50s and 60s, which creates a more lighthearted comedic tone and gives comedic rhythm to the scene. It also makes scene transitions less awkward and SecretPets.a.jpghelps with pace. The score itself is a wonderful, having been scored by the great Alexandre Desplat (The Grand Budapest Hotel, Deathly Hallows Pt. 1 & 2). I’d love to see it in contention for the Best Score Oscar (although seeing the fate of Inside Out’s beautiful score, it may not happen).

So with all of this nostalgia, the movie really impressed me. It’s not easy to go against the grain and pay homage to classic Hollywood. Speaking of which, I am loving this trend in animated films today that reference older movies. Inside Out referenced Chinatown, this movie referenced Some Like it Hot (a cat says to a dog trying to date her, Willie1.jpg“I’m a cat” and the dog says “Well, nobody’s perfect”), The Birds, and Grease (even singing a song from the musical). It’s very satisfying for movie fans.

With all of that said, I give this movie 4 1/2 out of 5 stars. The reason it misses out on perfection for me is because I feel the plot could have been tighter and I wish the film had a little bit more to say, or at least say it meant to say a little louder. But nonetheless, I know your kids will enjoy this film and you will too. I recommend it for ages 6 to 18 and it can be seen at a local theater near you when it opens July 8.

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