What’s the secret to The Secret Life Of Pets? Playing dead, apparently, as the only laughs to have will be from kids riding on the small bus. This may seem harsh, but seeing as how the movie was constructed by Illumination Studios, responsible for the infamous Minions movie that was an an effortless travesty fueled by an unrelenting marketing campaign, the next movie needed to redeem the company’s name. It didn’t.

The plot revolves around small dog Max, opening up with a mini-music video that forces the audience to wait two-minutes before they can watch the movie. With writing that ranges from bland to unsurprising, Max eventually meets another dog, Duke, whom his owner adopts. Max acts like a jerk to the bigger dog, resulting in a rivalry that barely develops. On a walk, Duke gets them both lost and the rest of the movie revolves around them trying to get back home.

Throughout the movie, there is little to no conflict. First, they are threatened by cats, but are stopped by animal control. Animal control catches them, but is then stopped by a brigade of human-hating animals lead by an evil bunny (Kevin Hart). The animals try to recruit and then kill them, but are stopped once the dogs escape through a pipe. The main characters are never in any trouble, they are always saved through a circumstance or coincidence. This is the most classic error in storytelling: removing obstacles without having the main character(s) overcome them themselves. It’s inexcusable how the audience never feels like the characters are in any form of danger ever. The lack of emotional attachment to the character’s predicament misses chances to get the audience to feel for the characters, to connect with them and admire them for their problem-solving abilities.

Don’t get me started on the subplot with Gidget, where the female sidekick is in love with the male main character simply because it’s cute. It’s sloppy, it’s not funny, and the bird that attempts to eat her ends up helping her because he has no friends. Like that’s literally the reason he agrees to never eat anything again. The movie constantly panders to children by sacrificing any sort of conflict or interesting idea.

The most disappointing part of this entire movie is that it could have been great. The best comedians of the modern era, Hart, Louie C KDana CarveyJenny Slate and many others voice several characters and yet cannot show a smidgen of their personality in these flat, copy-paste rolls. Perhaps letting comedians, you know, be funny, would have helped the movie do as advertised: make people laugh.

The beautiful graphics and, as usual, misleading marketing, left the movie with boring writing and substance-less story. The movie was portrayed as showing what animals do when humans aren’t around, as if they would party and interact with one another in unexpected animalistic, slightly humanoid ways, but none of the animals were given personalities unique to them. The cat had the same personality as the dogs, but enjoyed playing with cat toys. This isn’t a personality, it’s a bunch of traits that barely separates one character from being the same as another.

The special features include the makings-of and deleted scenes. With such a great cast, it’s almost depressing to wonder what could have been if Illumination could have let the creative geniuses that simply voiced their characters influence how the characters interacted with one another.

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