Starring: Louis C.K, Eric Stonestreet, Lake Bell, Jenny Slate, Kevin Hart

Director: Chris Renaud

90 minutes

It seems like The Secret Life of Pets has been bothering the pre-movie trailers for the past few years now. Shorts advertising broadband, insurance and multiplexes have probably totalled up more running time than the movie itself. Given the enormity of the marketing (paid for, let’s face it, by a bunch of crazed, French sounding yellow buggers) and the encouraging pre-release clips, the expectations are high.

The Secret Life of Pets shows the daily exploits of a series of animals in a high rise block in the centre of mid-town Manhattan. The story concentrates on Max the dog (Louis C.K), fluffy white canine Gidget (Slate), lazy bloated cat Chloe (Bell) and a series of other life companions as their owners leave to go on their mysterious daily journey away from home. When Max’s owner brings home Duke, a clumsy great mongrel from the pound, it throws Max’s perfect equilibrium into chaos as the two vie for alpha status within the house. Max and Duke eventually leave the apartment, get caught, escape, get caught again, then escape once more from a variety of humans and naughty animals, while Gidget heads up a rescue mission to bring them home. And as with anything Illumination now creates, Pets is prefixed with a Minions mini-film.

However, putting a Minions short as a pre-cursor was one of the worst things The Secret Life of Pets could have done. In contrast to the scattergun approach to easy-win gags the minions have had in droves since the first Despicable Me, Pets is a positively lethargic affair. It’s like letting Henry Rollins open for James Blunt. As the most successful kids films have shown, one of two things is crucial; either a great storyline with limited comedy (When Marnie Was There, Wall-E, Maleficent) which requires increased emotion and beauty, or pack it full of jokes, gags and physical comedy (Minions, Angry Birds Movie). Any attempt at falling somewhere in the middle rarely works, and only absolute classics such as Toy Story, The Lego Movie and Inside Out have ever managed to pull it off. It’s interesting too that the lethargy is actually caused mainly by the writers trying to move the story forward too quickly, as no time is given to build a scene into anything other than a platform to move to the next.

Pets main snag though is that it is truly difficult to engage with the characters; their filmic lifecycles are too linear, the voiceovers badly selected and achingly predictable. Louis C.K’s Max is just too straight, Eric Stronestreet’s Duke too one dimensional, Kevin Hart’s Snowball too trite, with only dippy hamster Myron bringing any fun to the party as he attempts to traverse the buildings air conditioning ducts to find his rightful home.

It’s a shame because Pets had so much going for it; a great concept, an opportunity for great characters and comedic insights into our best furry friends. There are moments to make you grin; Snowball’s accidental droppings during an angry tirade, Chloe’s inability to stop raiding the fridge, the thrash metal poodle. The problem is that all of these were on the trailer, there is very little else which excites the funny bone that hasn’t already been seen on the advert.

There’s something lacking in The Secret Life of Pets. It just doesn’t have much going for it and lacks the sense of fun it so frenziedly threw into the trailers. It’s watchable for the rare moments of fun and some lovely backdrops, and will no doubt clean up at the box office due to marketing saturation, but unfortunately The Secret Life of Pets limps along like a three legged dog.

5 / 10