REVIEW: The Secret Life Of Pets


The Secret Life Of Pets (2016) is the latest feature by growing animated company Illumination Entertainment, best known for the Despicable Me series and the Minions spin-off film. As opposed to other animation studios, such as Pixar, much of the films made by Illumination have soft spots for humour. In fact, it is often their ball of light.

Like the majority of animated films nowadays, The Secret Life Of Pets had a successful marketing campaign leading to its summer 2016 release. The first trailer was met with mass acclaim and popularity, further reflecting the film’s unique concept that raises a curious question – what do our pets do at home when we’re out? As we have seen this similar idea before in other films such as the Toy Story series, The Secret Life Of Pets had potential to provide entertainment and some imaginative speculation about their lifestyle. However, that was not always the case when watching it, and this review explains why the concept is ruined from the actual plot.



Anthropomorphic Pets & Their World

Like the majority of animated films featuring animals, they are anthropomorphic. Ones that not only speak like humans but also think like us and, to an extent, behave like us too. They all still maintain the physical appearance of their species and breed type, some of which are accurate and others are perhaps exaggerated. That being said, the majority of the pets represent a certain social class determined by physical presence, by how their owners appearance and behaviour or the choice of voice actor.

For example, Gidget is a pampered, feminine cat who has the attributes of a teenage girl and it can only suggest that her owner has a similar personality to her. There can be a contrast to that archetype, though, such as the unexpected yet hilarious incident of a poodle head-banging to rock music.


Despite this humane representation, viewers still identify these characters as pets. Particularly how they bark and meow to humans is them actually talking, including amongst other dogs and cats. There are genuine elements to it, at least within the first 10 minutes. As seen in the first trailer, everything from it makes the final cut (thankfully!). We are introduced to an ensemble of pets in a local neighbourhood to get up to mischief without their owners. It’s all funny and entertaining as it makes viewers think. However, from when they were introduced, the development of characters and flow of story deteriorates. From a concept that deemed to be unique and original turns a story that falls flat and fails to achieve its potential.


A Recycled Story and Intertextual References

The general idea behind The Secret Life Of Pets is a unique one which has ties to how pets and humans interact within a normal society. As previously stated, the first 10 minutes introduces the pets and their surroundings. There appeared to be a genuine attempt to capture the nature of a pet’s bond with their owners. However, after this point when the story does get underway, the film goes downhill as it became a cheesier and recycled version of Toy Story.

The Secret Life Of Pets follows a storyline that instead of being genuine as well as entertaining about a pet’s lifestyle, it exaggerates it within a fantastical context. Instead of being original or genuine to the nature of a pet, it instead follows a story that suddenly falls flat and cheesy. The film would have been more interesting if it followed a Fantastic Mr. Fox-like structure by not exaggerating animal’s lifestyle when not at home but instead focusing on how they naturally live. Perhaps how a cat lives independently by catching a mouse in the bushes.


Despite the flat storyline, there are some unique intertextual references in The Secret Life Of Pets. First, there is a clear homage to Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963) as an animated version of the poster is seen clearly in Max’s owner’s house. There’s also a reference to Some Like It Hot (1959) in quoting the film’s famous final quote – “I’m a man (cat)” with a reply to “Well, nobody’s perfect”. Also, there is a clear homage to Grease (1978) in a fantasy/imaginary sequence with “We Go Together” song being played. These references may have been made for adults in recognition for that Secret Life of Pets is a more child-friendly film. That being said, it doesn’t entirely contribute to the film’s overall quality.


A Connected Universe and Targeted Humour

From the studios behind Despicable Me, its sequel and Minions comes a film that appears to have started a connection. We certainly know for sure that they are all set in the same universe. A short Minions film featured before the featured Secret Life of Pets, perhaps taking a page out of Pixar’s book. It is particularly clear as the same gnome in the Minions short appears in The Secret Life of Pets; not to mention a similar neighbourhood.

The Secret Life of Pets also had the potential and perhaps promises to deliver an exceptional amount of comedy for all audiences to enjoy. In it features a large amount of slapstick humour, like seen in Despicable Me and Minions. However, it doesn’t take itself seriously as a comedy and it is perhaps only jokes that children would find funny. Therefore, indicating that the exaggerated representation of pets along with the gags would only be highly entertainment for children.



The entire concept of The Secret Life of Pets had a tremendous amount of potential to be great. It got to a point of excitement. However, it follows an almost identical structure to Toy Story and we all know the significance of that film. The Secret Life of Pets may have tried to do the same, and maybe on this kind of story have success limitations. The Secret Life of Pets is not necessarily a bad film for adults and good for children, but it is one that I would consider as an empty promise. A slight disappointment with its unique idea for all audiences which falls flat from wanting to only entertain the kids.


~ by SJMJ91 on 03/07/2016.

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