The Secret Life of Pets – Review (** 1/2)

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Illumination Entertainment’s follow-on from their absurdly successful Minions spin-off movie is an altogether watchable yet by-the-numbers animated romp, fitfully wringing laughs out of its solid set-up but ultimately proving quite forgettable.

Terrier Max (Louis C.K.) naturally gets concerned when his owner Katie (Ellie Kemper) brings him a “brother” by way of a clumsy, oversized mongrel named Duke (Eric Stonestreet). They’re forced to team up, however, when a mischievous rabbit, Snowball (Kevin Hart), shows up with his abandoned animal posse and launches a crusade against domesticated animals of all kinds.

Here is a movie that takes few risks and traces along the most familiar lines of the safe, animated family film. It certainly isn’t unpleasant – perhaps aside from some jarringly morbid plot points and one-liners – though rarely rises above generically watchable due to the mostly witless screenplay and characters generally devoid of personality.

Louis C.K. is certainly a fascinating choice for an animated lead, but the writing doesn’t give him much to do, and it’s only Kevin Hart’s larger-than-life performance that really musters much energy; he gets to channel his oft-obnoxious bleating into a more tolerable form while his status as a supporting character prevents him from being too overwhelming.

Rarely does the film surprise, but more disappointing is that the animation is more workmanlike than artistic; it may look state-of-the-art in a sense, but there’s little in the way of truly stunning visuals, save for one terrific, sausage-based dream sequence.

It’ll probably keep the kids entertained with its mildly amusing gags, but mostly lacks the wit, originality or visual panache to make it anything more than a “Netflix on a lazy, rainy Sunday afternoon” effort for adults. While there’s actually less than 80 minutes of movie here (if you subtract the pre-film Minions short and end credits), the strong cast deserves better, and from the team behind the Despicable Me franchise, it was certainly reasonable to hope for more than just “watchable”.

** 1/2

The Secret Life of Pets is in UK cinemas June 24th and US cinemas July 8th

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