I know people are probably asking what a person like me was doing at this movie. In short: I blame my husband.
1. He had a hard week.
2. He loves crap like this.
3. I made him sit through The Witch.
The Secret Life of Pets is yet another Pixar blockbuster for which there were 30 minutes worth of trailers for other crappy kid's movies, such as the next Ice Age, which appeared to be about apocalypse by meteor. From repeated exposure, I have noticed there is a trend towards the inappropriate, moribund, and transgressive in children's movies, and a movie where extinct creatures face a neo-Apocalypse is no exception. But I digress.
Typical of Pixar movies, a short animated bonus short played pre-film. This one featured Minions, which are insufferably annoying yellow earplugs who wear overalls and speak in cutesy, slurred Pigdin. I am not certain what the appeal is, though I suppose if I were four I might understand. The Minions mow a lawn in search of being paid $20.00 for an As Seen On TV Blender in the short. In the process, they wreak havoc upon the front yard of a retiree’s home. I kept thinking of the Guy Walks Into An Advertising Agency episode of Mad Men.
Secret Life of Pets begins with some establishing shots of New York and a focus upon the idyllic lives of pets (they’re COMPANION ANIMALS, UGH, already animals get no respect) in shi-shi Manhattan. We meet terrier Max, who lives with uber-hip stick figure “owner” (UGH) Katie. Max hangs out with a zaftig tabby cat named Chloe, a pampered purebred named Gidget, and sidekick friends Mel and Buddy. A parrot and a runaway guinea pig are thrown in there somewhere.
Katie, the “owner” of Max, adopts a huge, shaggy shelter dog named Duke. The moment Katie leaves her apartment, sibling rivalry ensues and Max and Duke face off. When Max and Duke are walked by the neighborhood dog walker, through various hi-jinks and tricks played upon each other, they get lost and their collars stolen by a gang of cats. As if they were African Americans doing absolutely nothing crime-worthy, the police ahem I mean Animal Control show up and capture them to take to the pound. Duke laments that he will most likely be euthanized shortly after his arrival.
Max and Duke are rescued by a psychotic rabbit named Snowball who re-enacts the rabbit scene from Monty Python’s Holy Grail on one of the Animal Control drivers. This is where the movie becomes one big chase scene and an exercise in motion sickness. Though I found it very amusing that a deranged rabbit, a tattooed pig, and a flushed lizard were able to commandeer a utility van, I thought the depiction of Snowball and his gang was oddly racist, especially when they took Max and Duke into New York’s sewers/revolutionary hideout. Snowball adulates a fallen revolutionary leader, I forget which animal, and it felt very wrong and appropriated. I did appreciate the tattooed, abandoned pig. Pigs are often used and abused by the tattoo industry for “practice”, and they are never asked if they would like to be practiced upon.
The most refreshing animal character in Secret Life of Pets, Gidget the Pomeranian, decides to rescue Max, whom she realizes she has a crush on. Sheltered Gidget, who dines out of fine china and watches melodramatic soap operas while her “owners” are gone, finds a red-tailed hawk named Tiberius. She frees Tiberius from his leg chain and stupid helmet in a crummy shack he cannot fly away from — stuff like this is why the human species is horrible and needs to go voluntarily extinct — and Tiberius agrees both not to eat her and to help her find Max. Gidget was not only funny because of the voice actor, Jenny Slate, whose voice was perfect for the role, she also sent a positive message about fighting for what you believe in despite your upbringing and conditioning.
Max and Duke end up at a sausage factory via some mishaps, and since they are starving, they eat their fill. They become high and see visions of sausages dancing through their heads. I noticed that even in meat-packing plants, there are no actual dead animals, just steaks floating about on hooks that will become sausages. Never mind what sausages are actually made of.
I won’t give the rest of it away in case you want to see it. As far as Pixar movies go, it was good and bad, funny at moments and unintentionally depressing in others, speciesist as always, with all the usual tropes. The geographical shots of New York on a sunny day were gorgeous. There were far too many chase scenes and a few uncomfortable stereotypes I would not foist upon my child, even though that child is nonexistent. Another odd detail I noticed, though I doubt anyone else would, is that the animals did not have anuses or even crevices where their genitalia would be. I think the absence of such markers speaks volumes about our culture and how terrified we are to deal with sexuality with any kind of honesty — we can’t even admit to children that animals have anuses, vaginas, and penises, regardless of what they are used for.