|'There's no evidence that anybody involved in The Secret Life Of Pets has looked at the film from anything other than a marketing perspective'.|
Having struck gold (or should that be yellow?) with breakout stars the Minions from their Despicable Me franchise, The Secret Life Of Pets marks Illumination Entertainment's first release since 2012's The Lorax not to feature the cash-generating characters now adopted as the studio's official mascots. From a marketing point of view the studio's chosen focus is a sound if entirely profit-driven choice: no doubt there's already been many a familiar cry of "It's so fluffy I'm gonna die!" as a young audience member receives a cuddly toy of their favourite furry friend from the film's sizeable cast of animals.
It's a similar criticism to that famously levelled at Toy Story over twenty years ago. But whilst Pixar's premier franchise has undoubtedly turned a more-than-healthy profit for Disney through merchandise, the studio has also silenced any suggestion of the films being feature-length toy adverts through the thematic and narrative complexity and maturity that have become their hallmark. In contrast, there's no evidence that anybody involved in The Secret Life Of Pets has looked at the film from anything other than a marketing perspective.
Whilst the initial idea of Max (Louis C.K.), a Jack Russell Terrier, behaving like an overly attached significant other towards his owner Katie (Ellie Kemper) works well, it's dropped remarkably quickly in favour of a series of unoriginal ideas which struggle to engage at any point. Unfavourable comparisons to Toy Story are that much easier to make once it becomes clear fairly early on that the main narrative charting the relationship between Max and Duke (Eric Stonestreet), a larger mongrel Katie rescues from the pound, is essentially a rehash of that seen between Woody and Buzz minus any of the emotional development or investment. It's also hard to root for either dog when both showcase some considerable errors in characterisation during the first act.
Beyond that, all director Chris Renaud can offer is a collection of characters and scenarios which never satisfyingly fit together. There's little attempt to move away from well-established cartoon stereotypes, although if irritatingly unfunny bunny Snowball (Kevin Hart) is what we get when Renaud does try to break the mould then perhaps this is a blessing in disguise. There are individual moments which work - the opening and closing montages of the pets interacting with their owners and homes are well-observed and funny - but these end up too few and far between, the rest of the film padded out too often with overused running gags and tired pop culture references.
The Secret Life Of Pets ultimately exposes the fundamental problems with Illumination's output so far. Strip away the slapstick silliness of the Minions and the three entries into the Despicable Me franchise all come up considerably lacking in plot and character to varying degrees, a problem Renaud comprehensively fails to solve here.
The Secret Life Of Pets is currently available on Amazon Instant Video.