The Secret Life of Pets (Blu-ray)

November 23, 2016 13 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

Do animals talk? No, they can’t right? Can they? You have to wonder what a dog does all day when you close the door and head off to work. I would find it hard to believe that they turn on the TV and chill out for the better part of the day until their owner gets back. That would be insane. No, rather I think they just sit there and sleep. But if they did that then we’d have no movie, would we? As you’ll see over and over in the supplemental materials, The Secret Life of Pets is a product of Illumination Pictures and if that name rings a bell it’s because that’s who produced Minions (who even turn up on this disc a few times). But with all of the “pet friendly” people in this country, clearly this movie was either a distraction or entertainment for the kiddies as the movie was one of the most successful of the year. Raking in nearly $400 million domestically, this is a bona fide hit and I’ve a feeling we’ll see Max and friends again (and again, because Hollywood likes to make money).  So grab your leash and get ready because it’s time to finally find out what happens when you leave the room…

The Secret Life of Pets takes its inspiration from a rather well-known film called Toy Story. Heard of it? Only instead of toys talking when people leave the room, it’s your faithful (or not so faithful) dog or cat. Max (voiced by Louis CK) is a little dog living in NYC with his beloved owner Katie (voiced by Ellie Kemper). Katie brings home a new dog, a large and hairy stray named Duke (voiced by Eric Stonestreet), much to Max’s dismay. Seeing him as competition for Katie’s affection, Max conspires to get rid of the intruder. In the process, both dogs manage to escape their domestic dwelling and end up “loose” in the city. They encounter an evil bunny named Snowball (voiced by Kevin Hart), who oversees a vicious gang of abandoned pets and harbors a grudge against all “domestics.” Meanwhile, the little lapdog Gidget ( voiced by Jenny Slate), who’s in love with Max, launches a mission to find him once she realizes he’s not home. Helping out are some other pooches, Mel (voiced by Bobby Moynihan) and Buddy (voiced by Hannibal Buress), a cat named Chloe (voiced by Lake Bell), and a predatory bird, Tiberius (voiced by Albert Brooks). Can you see where this is going?

Truthfully, there’s not a whole lot that really stood out about this movie. Yes, it’s bright, fun and cheery, but these animated films have all become so similar that it takes something special to really make me enjoy them. And don’t me wrong, the movie is enjoyable, but it just seemed kind of…there. And the blatant “tip of the hat” to Toy Story made it even less original. But hey, imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, right? Truthfully the vocal talent is top notch and any film that has the foresight to cast Albert Brooks either in live-action or vocal form has got something going for it (in a good way). Kevin Hart is doing his usual mile-a-minute routine and we’ve got a slew of other talent thrown in for good measure as well. The bottom line (well I guess that’s below) is will kids like it? Absolutely. Are there other animated films out there that I feel are more entertaining? Yep. But looking at the facts, it’s hard to deny that this film hit home with people – and a lot of them.

Video: How’s it look?

As we might expect, the 1.85:1 AVC HD image is nothing short of perfection though I will say that in a few of the arial shots, I seemed to notice a bit of banding in the sky. I’d thought it was something else, but I went back and watched it again and, sure enough, there it was. Now this is a minor complaint and something that shouldn’t (and won’t) detract from the overall experience. New York is meant to look bright, cheery and fun and they do a good job of it. Even the back alleys where we meet the evil gang of cats looks pretty nice. Detail is immaculate, textures are rich and detailed and aside from what the humans look like (anexoric), it’s everything you’d expect from an animated film.

Audio: How’s it sound?

The included DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack leaves no room for complaints either. The voices are crisp and free of any distortion and as I’ve said in other animated movies, I like to make a game trying to see if I can guess which actor voiced which role. Admittedly I was pretty off base with Louis CK as Max. Surrounds are used effectively and even the LFE had a few moments to shine. It’s a lively, vibrant track that’s both dynamic and entertaining so I’m sure that the viewer will have no complaints.

Supplements: What are the extras?

    • The Humans that Brought You Pets – An interview with the brass of the production company as each explains his/her role in the development or production of the film and some of the “inspirations” that made the movie come to life (so to speak).
      • Chris Meledandri
      • Janet Healy
      • Chris Renaud
      • Yarrow Cheney
      • Brian Lynch
    • Animals Can Talk: Meet the Actors – We get some behind the scenes footage of the actors doing their work (a LOT of hand gesturing) as well as some sit down talks with a few of the more “key” members involved.
    • All About the Pets – Actors Kevin Hart and Eric Stonestreet are joined by an animal trainer who gives them an assortment of “pets” in the film as both cuddle and dote upon said animals. The adorable factor is off the charts.
    • Hairstylist to the Dogs – Eric Stonestreet is joined by a “hairstylist to the stars” as the duo give a few pooches a makeover. And if you were wondering, yes they actually do make a “leave in conditioner” for dogs. Amazing.
    • How to Make and Animated Film – The same assortment of talking heads we met in the first feature once again regale us with all the intricacies of how to make a movie like this. Admittedly I’d never have the time or patience to do this, but these folks do and I have to give them credit as it does look a lot more difficult than one would think.
    • Anatomy of a Scene – “An animated scene involves thousands of decisions on a weekly basis” says Illumination CEO Chris Melendandri. In this segment, we get the lowdown on what it takes to put together even some of the most basic movements with a character. We see their base models, some of the transitions involved and the different effects that can be applied to all of their 3D models.
    • The Best of Snowball – A 90 second montage of one-liners by Snowball (voiced by Kevin Hart), the evil bunny in the film.
    • “Lovely Day” Lyric Video – As promised, this is a 2D animated video with the words to Bill Withers’ iconic song “Lovely Day.”
    • Hot Dog Sing-Along – I was instantly reminded of Sausage Party (not to be confused with this film in any way, shape or form) as we see the two main characters lost in a world of hot dogs. All of this is accompanied by the song “We Go Together” from Grease with the words at the bottom of the screen.
    • Brian the Minion on Pets – This three part series sponsored by Fandango (logo included and everything) has Brian of Minions fame as he and fellow minions watch three clips from the film in a Mystery Science Theater 3000 style. The silhouettes react to what’s going on screen and laugh because they’re mindless minions.
    • GoPro – The Secret Life of Pets – The corporate sponsorships persist in this segment by GoPro. We see some scenes from the film coupled with some real life footage that parallels what happens in the movie. Oddly I find it interesting that they let people jump out of airplanes around New York City. You’d think that wouldn’t go over so well…
    • Trailer – If you look closely in the movie, you’ll see a poster for this on the back of the bus. If you don’t, you’ll see that they included a trailer for the next Illumination Pictures project – Sing.
    • Mini Movies
      • Norman TV – Norman, the guinea pig who can’t ever seem to find his way back to his apartment, spies through different vents as if he’s watching different TV series. I guess this is his entertainment.
      • Weenie – If you watched the Hot Dog Sing-Along, then these characters will look familiar. A song and dance with an elder trying to cheer up a young hot dog who’s been called a, you guessed it, weenie.
      • Mower Minions – In an effort to get some money for a new blender, the minions manage to finagle a few bucks out of some old folks while mowing their lawn. Oddly, the only “rated” segment of the trio.
      • The Making of Mini-Movies – We get some insight into the Paris, France-based company and how the collaboration between the higher ups and the, well…minions made for a great interactive experience.

The Bottom Line

The Secret Life of Pets was one of the biggest commercial hits of the entire year. It’s got everything that makes an animated movie successful, so it’s really not that much of a surprise. The movie both looks and sounds great, and the supplements do get a tad bit redundant. Still, I’m sure the kids will love this one and there’s no reason not to add it to your collection.

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