Missed opportunity to appeal to more than kids

Kevin Hart voices maniacal rabbit Snowball and Louis C.K. is Max the terrier in The Secret Life Of Pets.
Kevin Hart voices maniacal rabbit Snowball and Louis C.K. is Max the terrier in The Secret Life Of Pets.PHOTO: UIP



91 minutes/Opens tomorrow /2/5 stars

The story: Rescued from the streets, the terrier Max (voiced by Louie's Louis C.K.) enjoys the attention and love of his owner Katie (Ellie Kemper of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt) all by himself. His dream domesticated life is upended when she rescues another dog - the huge, shaggy Duke (Modern Family's Eric Stonestreet). Squabbling for alpha-dog status in the park one day, they run off from their walker and get into all sorts of problems with the most dangerous stray animals in town, including a maniacal rabbit called Snowball (Kevin Hart).

The producers of this animated feature probably did not think they were giving away the best bits of the work in the trailer. But they did.

In its title and trailer, The Secret Life Of Pets teased that it would do for domestic pets what Pixar's Toy Story series did for children's toys - reveal the independent inner lives of beings whose existence usually revolves around humans.

So the trailer portrayed, in enticing snapshots, anthropomorphic animals that harbour bitter jealousy, get in petty tangles and generally act in ways contrary to how humans might see them - all between the time that their owners leave for work and return home.

Instead of extending such finely and hilariously observed moments into a Sundance-worthy characterdrama-slash-comedy, director Chris Renaud turns the movie into yet another run-of-the-mill animated adventure, a la his Despicable Me films (2010, 2013).

What a missed opportunity to appeal to a wider audience than just young children.

Unlike toys, whom no one really expects to possess inner lives, pets have become de-facto children for many modern-day couples, who would project human emotions and motivations onto their furkids.

These parents of furkids would surely embrace a film that takes their pet obsessions seriously and gives them a work that validates how far they would go for their pets - including dress them up, take them out for walks in strollers and call them siblings to real biological human children.

Alas, The Secret Life Of Pets turns a menagerie of extremely cute animals (especially Snowball and Gidget, Max's love interest) into excuses to sell equally lovable toys, robbing the pets of whatever humanity pet-lovers would ascribe to them.

None of the animals really develops into a character an adult would care about.

They are just a collection of tics and YouTube-worthy traits tossed as fodder into an adventure ride that bears none of the dizzyingly witty visuals of Penguins Of Madagascar (2014) or the heart and soul of Zootopia (2016).

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 31, 2016, with the headline 'Missed opportunity to appeal to more than kids'. Subscribe