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The Secret Life of Pets: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD Review

The Secret Life of Pets (2016) movie poster The Secret Life of Pets

Theatrical Release: July 8, 2016 / Running Time: 86 Minutes / Rating: PG

Directors: Chris Renaud; Yarrow Cheney (co-director) / Writers: Cinco Paul, Ken Daurio, Brian Lynch

Voice Cast: Louis C.K. (Max), Eric Stonestreet (Duke), Kevin Hart (Snowball), Jenny Slate (Gidget), Ellie Kemper (Katie), Albert Brooks (Tiberius), Lake Bell (Chloe), Dana Carvey (Pops), Hannibal Buress (Buddy), Bobby Moynihan (Mel), Chris Renaud (Norman), Steve Coogan (Ozone, Reginald), Michael Beattie (Tattoo), Sandra Echeverria (Maria), Jaime Camil (Fernando), Kiely Renaud (Molly)

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There's big money in computer animation and no one knows that better than Illumination Entertainment. Launched in 2010 with the release of Despicable Me, the Universal Pictures-based production company has consistently churned out blockbuster family attractions and at budgets far less than those of competitors like Disney, Pixar, and DreamWorks.
Despicable Me 2, Illumination's most expensive production to date, cost just $76 million to make, which is significantly less than Pixar spent on A Bug's Life in the '90s even ignoring inflation. Despicable 2 grossed nearly a billion dollars worldwide. Two years later, the spin-off Minions did reach ten figures globally.

Last year marked the first time that two Illumination movies were released in the same calendar year. Though the studio has relied heavily on sequels and spin-offs, both were completely original works. And both added to Illumination's streak of commercial success. The Secret Life of Pets, released worldwide in the summer, was especially potent. It grossed $368 M domestic (fourth best for the year) and $875 M worldwide (sixth for the year) on a budget of just $75 M. It was the second big original animated hit of the year, following Disney's Zootopia, proving that as financially safe and certain as sequels might be, audiences could still flock to a compelling universe they had never before visited.

Max tries to patronize his new roommate Duke in "The Secret Life of Pets."

Pets hooked moviegoers with a straightforward premise: what do animals get to up in the day when their owners are out at work or school? For those of you who don't work from home, the writers of the Despicable Me series (plus Brian Lynch of Hop and Puss in Boots) had a creative version of the less exciting reality. In their universe, pets get into all kinds of Pixar-inspired adventures. Our attentions are directed foremost at Max (voiced by Louis C.K.), a playful canine who is basically the soulmate of his owner Katie (Ellie Kemper). But one day, Katie brings home to her Manhattan apartment Duke (Eric Stonestreet), a huge, furry dog whom Max immediately perceives as a threat and tries to push out of the picture.

Instead, Max and Duke end up, like most focal dogs of cinema, on an adventure. The two dogs lose their collars in a run-in with some alley cats. Picked up by a dogcatcher and destined for the pound, they instead escape and join a community of human-hating animals led by an outspoken bunny named Snowball (Kevin Hart). Gidget (Jenny Slate), a white Pomeranian enamored with Max, leads a charge to rescue the missing dogs. And of course, Max and Duke are doing all they can to make it home for a reunion with Katie.

Pets is on the order of other Illumination efforts, which have appealed more to the general public than critics, cineastes, and awards-giving organizations. Forced to choose between "rotten" or "fresh", more critics have opted for the latter, but their enthusiasm has been measured and I haven't even been able to share that much.

Looking to rescue her friends, Gidget enlists the services of a bloodthirsty hawk named Tiberius.

Pets at least is more diverting and tolerable than the broad slapstick-driven Despicable franchise. The filmmakers draw upon familiar pet behaviors and relationships to make the proceedings buoyant and harmless enough. Creativity and wit are in modest supply, especially when easily compared to something as creative and commentary-rich as Zootopia.
But it's an obvious crowd-pleaser full of bits where you can practically hear young laughs even when you're watching it with only a cat nearby.

A bloodthirsty hawk. Headbanging dogs that rock out to metal when their owners leave. The different world perspective of cats and dogs. This is the kind of material that makes up Pets. It might elicit light chuckles from animal-loving adults without kids. But it doesn't transport you, lift your spirit, touch your heart, or leave an indelible mark on you. It just kind of entertains you for 80 minutes plus credits.

After winning over the public, Pets failed to factor into Hollywood's award season, settling for nods from the likes of the Annie Awards, People's Choice, and Nickelodeon Kids' Choice Awards. It came to home video in time for Christmas in a Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD combo pack that gets reviewed just in time for me to include the film in my 2016 Ranked & Reviewed countdown.

The Secret Life of Pets: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD cover art - click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

1.85:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
Blu-ray: Dolby Atmos/TrueHD 7.1 (English); DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Both: Dolby Digital 5.1 (Spanish, French), Dolby Surround 2.0 (DVS)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish, French
Extras Not Subtitled; Not Closed Captioned
Release Date: December 6, 2016
Suggested Retail Price: $34.98
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (DVD-9 & BD-50)
Blue Keepcase in Embossed Cardboard Slipcover
Also available as Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD ($44.98 SRP), standalone DVD ($29.98 SRP). 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray + Digital HD, and Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Illumination's animation may be far less dazzling than their better, pricier competition, but just like that, it transfers to Blu-ray with nary a hitch. The 1.85:1 visuals are as sharp, colorful, and clear as they are meant to be. The 7.1 Dolby Atmos/TrueHD soundtrack is also better than average with some creative sound design tastefully enveloping the viewer on a regular basis.

The musical mini-movie "Weinie" is like a short version of "Sausage Party" without all the crude jokes and Ethnic stereotypes. Minions clown around on a landscaping job in the mini-movie "Mower Minions."

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

As on other Universal/Illumination home video releases,
this one touts the inclusion of mini-movies above all other bonus features. The three original short films evidently warrant prominent mention on front and back covers, plus their own section on the menu.

The mini-movies are: Norman Television (4:01), a riff on Rear Window involving the guinea pig in Jimmy Stewart's role; Weenie (4:05), like a PG-rated version of a Sausage Party song; and the pre-feature theatrical companion Mower Minions (4:27), in which those familiar yellow henchmen take on a landscaping job to pay for a blender they see advertised on television.

"The Making of the Mini-Movies" (7:23) supplies some behind-the-scenes on all three of those shorts, a fitting and welcome inclusion. (Heavily accented speakers are subtitled.)

Jenny Slate has fun for the cameras in "Animals Can Talk." Kevin Hart and Eric Stonestreet have fun with an animal trainer's inventory in "All About the Pets."

The regular bonus features begin with "The Humans That Brought You Pets" (8:43), a section consisting of profiles of five crew members: executive producer Chris Meledandri, producer Janet Healy, director Chris Renaud, co-director Yarrow Cheney, and co-writer Brian Lynch. Each short lets Meledandri share some thoughts before letting the subject speak about their own work and their experiences with pets.

"Animals Can Talk: Meet the Actors" (3:49) obviously shows off the voice cast.

The amusing, standalone "All About the Pets" (6:26) sees an animal trainer show off a variety of common household pets to actors Kevin Hart and Eric Stonestreet. Imagine a late night talk show segment.

Eric Stonestreet blow-dries a dog in "Hairstylist to the Dogs." "Anatomy of a Scene" reminds us that Illumination Entertainment involves humans animating on computers.

"Hairstylist to the Dogs" (3:41) lets a groomer and Stonestreet demonstrate some techniques for cutting dog hair.

"How to Make an Animated Film" (4:13), one of two Blu-ray exclusives, offers a very brisk guide to that, touching on everything from animation to scoring.

"Anatomy of a Scene" (4:46), the other exclusive, doesn't so much live up to its title as give us more making-of that would seem to belong to a different featurette (presumably the previous one).

Bill Withers' delightful 1977 song "Lovely Day", featured in the movie, gets an animated lyric video. Brian the Minion scolds his unruly fellow Minions in three Fandango "Pets" shorts.

"The Best of Snowball" (1:15) is nothing more than a highlight reel of Kevin Hart's bunny character.

"Lovely Day" lyric video (2:23) presents Bill Withers'
enduring 1977 song with animated lyrics and Pets characters.

"Hot Dog Sing-Along" sees the weinies from the film and corresponding mini-movie singing "We Go Together" (1:12) from Grease.

Brian the Minion on Pets serves up three Fandango shorts, in which silhouettes of Minions are laid over clips of Pets (and the mini-movie Norman TV) MST3K-style. Each runs under a minute and devotes more than enough time to promoting the source.

"GoPro: The Secret Life of Pets" (2:04) compares footage of skydiving, surfing, and other activities that evidently inspired the animal animation in the film.

Finally, there is an extended Sing trailer, which runs 4 minutes and 2 seconds, which is noticeably longer than the disc-opening preview for the same film.

Chloe the cat looks chill on The Secret Life of Pets' DVD main menu.

The discs open with trailers for Sing, Kubo and the Two Strings, "Little Big Shots", Phantom Boy, and Universal Studios' Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem. Oddly, these are not accessible by menu, apart from the different Sing preview I already discussed.

The main menu simply loops a montage of clips and score.

Joining the two plain discs inside the slipcovered keepcase is a booklet that supplies not only your Digital HD with UltraViolet code and directions, but another code to get a free digital movie when you sign up to receive email updates from Universal.

Duke bares his teeth to try to instill some fear in the alley cats that have cornered him and Max.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The Secret Life of Pets doesn't have the wit or entertainment value to justify the huge crowds it drew last summer. It is a jaunty crowd-pleaser, designed to win over animal lovers, but no more than that, which makes it seem mediocre among new computer-animated features. Universal's combo pack is full of extras, many of them light and short, some of them enlightening, and most of them entertaining. If you or your children loved the movie, maybe it's worth a purchase, but I can't recommend it as anything more than broadly appealing comedy.

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Related Reviews:
2016 Animated Films: Zootopia The Angry Birds Movie Kubo and the Two Strings Finding Dory The Red Turtle Sausage Party
Illumination Entertainment: Despicable Me Hop Dr. Seuss' The Lorax
From the Writers: Horton Hears a Who! College Road Trip The Santa Clause 2
Dogs: Oliver & Company Bolt 101 Dalmatians Beverly Hills Chihuahua

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Reviewed March 16, 2017.



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