What’s Going On With The Secret Life of Pets?

05 Jul 2016

Although The Secret Life of Pets has had a successful opening at the Box Office, it has received mediocre three-star reviews from most critics.

We take a look at why it didn’t live up to the hype.

The Good

It is technically impressive

The New York created in The Secret Life of Pets is truly magical.  In addition to this, the animals themselves look pretty great too.  Critics all seem to agree that this fact alone makes up for the film’s other failings.  For instance, Robbie Collin of The Telegraph claims that ‘a short sequence in which a dachshund twistingly shins up a fire escape is probably the best thing the studio has ever done’.

The Secret Life of Pets

It is visually entertaining

It provides excellent visual comedy.  Writing for The Observer, Wendy Ide notes that the film delivers excellent ‘visual jokes’, ‘action set pieces’ and ‘physical comedy’.

It has references to older films to keep parents entertained

The film is dotted with references and allusions to older films such as Some Like It Hot and Monty Python and The Holy Grail which helps to make it appealing to all generations.  In her review for Screen Daily, Wendy Ide observes that ‘there is enough here to appeal to most sections of the audience’.

It is (arguably) Illumination’s best film yet

Many critics are asserting that this is Illumination’s most creatively and technically impressive film to date.  Although the Minions franchise was irrefutably an enormous commercial success, Pets is an important step forwards for the studio.  Robbie Collin notes that he hopes Pets is ‘a promise of even better things to come’, whilst Variety’s Peter Debruge calls it ‘the studio’s most accomplished feature, from both a story and animation stand point’.

The Secret Life of Pets

It has the potential to become a successful franchise

Animal merchandise will inevitably sell well and the writers have created a formula that could easily be re-created using different kinds of animals.  For instance, what happens when zookeepers go to bed at night?

The animals’ characters are innovative and engaging

Although many other aspects of the feature seem to borrow heavily from other works, the characters themselves are surprisingly original.  Indeed, Peter Debruge describes the personalities of the film as ‘completely fresh’.

The Bad

It doesn’t really compare to Zootopia

It was always going to be difficult for another animated feature about animals to be released so soon after Zootopia.  And although Wendy Ide tries to claim that there is ‘plenty of room for another picture featuring our furry friends’, comparisons between the two are inevitable and unfortunately Pets just isn’t as good.

The Secret Lives of Pets

It isn’t very original

The plot borrows VERY heavily from Toy Story.  As Wendy Ide observes ‘the dynamic between pets/toys and owners/children and the rivalry between established favourite and new usurper feel as though they have been lifted from the John Lasseter film’.

You don’t really get attached to the characters

They may be innovative and fresh but unfortunately that doesn’t mean you get particularly attached to the central characters Max and Duke.  Ben Croll suggests that this might be because the central tention between them ‘gets lost amid the comedy, chase sequences and action set pieces’ whereas Empire’s Jonathan Pile most bluntly asserts that ‘both Max and Duke behave so poorly, it’s difficult to feel sympathy for either of them’.

The plot itself is a bit dodgy

An awful lot happens in this film, but it doesn’t seem to be very connected or make much sense.  The Telegraph’s Robbie Collin asserts that ‘The lack of meaningful connective tissue between the antics means the film begins to flag far earlier than it should’.  In fact, he even goes as far as to say that ‘a sense of laziness pervades the writing’, citing the fact that a snake is described as ‘poisonous’ rather than ‘venomous’ as the reason for this.

The Secret Lives of Pets

There isn’t enough emotion

For a film that borrows so heavily from Toy Story, you might think there would be a little more emotion involved than there is.  Writing for IndieWire, Ben Croll says that ‘if you’re looking for emotion you might be barking up the wrong tree’ and describes the film as ‘something less than a feeling’.

It’s aimed too much at small children

Although there are the aforementioned passing references to appeal to adults, most of the film is most definitely aimed at children.  In fact, Robbie Collin suggests that it is ‘laser-targeted at younger cinema-goers, with its action sequences cued up one after the other, like a YouTube playlist’.



The Secret Life of Pets


There’s too much going on

The film’s incoherent plot is coupled with an excessive amount of characters.  This makes it even more confusing.  Indeed, Croll describes it as ‘totally overstuffed’.

The Verdict

Overall, pretty mixed reviews for The Secret Life of Pets.  In conclusion: it’s worth watching, but probably not one you’ll watch over and over again.