Despite 2012’s disappointing adaptation of The Lorax, Illumination Entertainment has been on the up-and-up these past few years, thanks to it’s Despicable Me franchise and the continued popularity of the Minion characters. So you can (slightly) forgive them for ensuring that the last six months or so of advertising for their latest original project, The Secret Life of Pets, has been plastered with Minions or Minion-related logos and imagery. Hell, even the ident for the studio starts with the word MINION and features one of the annoying little yellow creatures rearing its head. Plus there’s a short Minion film at the start of Pets to contend with too. But does this desperate need to shove Minions into all the trailers and posters suggest a lack of confidence in their latest original project? Should we be worried?
By now you’ll be aware of the film’s plot. Max (voiced by Louis C.K.) is a dog, who finds his livelihood threatened when his owner brings home a new dog, Duke (played by Modern Family‘s Eric Stonestreet). The two hounds clash, but are forced to work together when they find themselves lost in the big city and at the mercy of a sociopathic, human-hating bunny rabbit played by Kevin Hart.
The film starts well enough, with a series of vignettes showcasing what the main animal characters get up to when their owners go out, activities which range from raiding the fridge to rocking out to System of a Down. Each of these moments are still funny, despite having already been used in multiple trailers. But sadly, once the film starts moving towards a main plot, it loses some of its touch, relying heavily on a piecemeal plot which seems to steal ideas from other animated kids film from recent years. Two mismatched rivals far from home, working together to get back whilst dealing with an insane adversary? Yeah, so far, so Toy Story!
The jokes don’t exactly land either, especially for the adults who will no doubt be dragged against their will to see the film with their kids. There’s slapstick, toilet humour and moments of stupidity that will appeal to all, but beyond a few minor chuckles, there’s nothing too clever or original on offer here. Dated references to films like The Matrix fall flat, whilst the main story takes so many lazy narrative shortcuts, its a wonder the filmmaker’s didn’t just cut out the entire middle section of the film altogether. The animation looks great and there’s moments which work, both dramatically as well as comedically. But these moments are fleeting and easily forgettable.
The first trailer for Pets promised an altogether different tale, one which simply focused on the secret ways the animals live, as alluded to by the title. Whilst not as big in scope, it would certainly have presented audiences with something different, something more intimate and with possibly better laughs. As it stands, the movie we instead get is watchable, but not really as exciting as what was originally promised.
Of course, by now, it matters not a jot. The Minion-infused advertising will ensure Pets proves itself to be a box office hit. However, there’s no disguising or hiding from the fact that the film is a kids cartoon on auto-pilot, low on originality and big laughs, and altogether disjointed and unengaging.
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