Albert Brooks

The Other Side of Animation 72: The Secret Life of Pets Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

When I made the rules to my reviews, there was a reason why I didn’t put down certain bigger animation studios. I say this, because I’m sure you would be asking why I am looking at one of the most successful animated films from 2016, The Secret Life of Pets from Illumination Entertainment? A relatively new studio, Illumination Entertainment, has made a big name for themselves in the animation scene with their Despicable Me franchise. While they are very well known and have been making a huge amount of bank for Universal, I don’t consider them on the same level as Pixar, Disney, or DreamWorks. It’s not that they don’t have talent or skill behind their films, but they are slowly turning into a studio that is more about the flash of the high quality animation and humor, over a story that’s actually engaging. I know that sounds like I’m looking down on them, but since they are really good at the animation, humor, and over-marketing the heck out of their films, they should be able to make more compelling stories. It’s a problem I have with all of their films, and it’s the same here. So, what do I think overall about The Secret Life of Pets? Well, let’s find out.

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So, you ever wonder what happens to your pets while you are away? Well that is what this film answers. The story follows a dog named Max, voiced by Louis C.K. He lives happily with his owner until one day, she brings back a big new dog named Duke, voiced by Eric Stonestreet. Of course, the two don’t get along, and Max gets jealous of Duke’s arrival. One day, while being walked by a very bad dog walker, the two get stuck with each other and lost within the big city. This leads to a group of Max’s friends to go on the search for the two. These friends include a snarky cat named Chloe, voiced by Lake Bell, an elderly dog played by Dana Carvey, a fluffy little pomeranian named Gidget, voiced by Jenny Slate, a pug named Mel, voiced by Bobby Moynihan, a dachshund named Buddy voiced by Hannibal Buress, a guinea pig played by Chris Renaud, and a hawk voiced by Albert Brooks. The duo of Max and Duke even run into a group of rogue stray animals led by a bunny named Snowball, voiced by Kevin Hart.

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There is pretty much one word with which I can describe The Secret Life of Pets. That one word is safe. I mean, I have more words to describe it, but safe sums it up pretty nicely. It’s the most harmless, painfully average movie I have seen from 2016. I had no real super- grievance with the film. It wasn’t offensive like Norm of the North, or amazing like Kubo and the Two Strings. If you have ever seen something like Toy Story or any film that puts two polar opposite characters together and they have to go on an adventure together, you’ve seen this movie. It’s quite frankly surprising that they got away with how generic this story is. You know every story moment and every line. It’s a shame too, since the idea of knowing what your pets are doing when you aren’t looking is incredibly relatable. Who doesn’t have a pet and watches this movie, laughing or observing something their own pet does? It’s just all the more of a bummer that the story itself is so ho-hum.

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The film also has way too many characters. You barely get to know about the many characters they introduce, and it becomes annoying when you can’t really invest in anyone. The story also doesn’t take advantage of any of the possible touching or mature story bits. They bring it up, but then don’t let it sit for the audience to take in. It’s something that Illumination has a problem with. I know not everything has to have the emotional maturity of a Pixar or Disney film, but I don’t want to watch just pretty animation. I want to come away feeling something, and yet, I don’t from this film. I can understand if Secret Life of Pets doesn’t want to be mature or deep, but just good animation shouldn’t be the only thing worth going to a movie for.

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So, after I moaned and groaned, what do I like about the movie? Well, the animation is pretty great. It is very detailed, smooth, has solid designs, and it’s good to look at. No matter what bad things I have to say about Illumination, I am very impressed with how good their animation got in such a short span of time. The film’s greatest strength, though, is how the animals act. I am sure anyone who has ever had a bird, cat, dog, fish, or whatever, has watched this movie, and has pointed out or observed something the animals did in the movies that your own pets have done before. It’s a universally relatable thing that anyone can understand. I also enjoyed the cast. While not everyone gets the best character development, everyone had good chemistry, and worked off each other well. Even Kevin Hart, who is usually very annoying in his movies, is actually funny in this film. Maybe he works better as a comedian/voice actor instead of an actual actor. And even though I have been harsh, the film does wrap up all nice and warm, and can be a tad heartfelt.

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As much as I bash this film for it being unoriginal, and being a success when there is nothing super noteworthy about the film, it’s not harmful to anyone. I can understand why it was so big and why so many people saw it. I even feel good an original film is getting a sequel, and was a hit due to how many reboots, remakes, and sequels we got in 2016 that no one asked for. Still, I wish Illumination could get better at what they do. It’s weird, because next time, we look at a film from Illumination that I actually enjoyed with Sing. Thanks for reading, I hope you all enjoyed the article, and I will see you next time!

Rating: Rent it!

The Other Side of Animation 52: The Little Prince Review

 
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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

In the field of animation in terms of animated films, you can always tell when an animated film was made with passion, and when one is made for the bottom dollar. When you watch a film that had love and effort put into it, you hear timeless dialogue, well written jokes, an engaging story, and a film that you want to re-watch multiple times. It’s a film you know you want to buy day one when it hits store shelves. When you see a cynical project, while it might hide behind good animation, and a stellar cast, you can tell through the same elements of story, characters, dialogue, the humor, and so on where you understand that this was made less by a studio of talented animators, and more like a bunch of higher-ups who have no idea what they are doing, and use focus groups to think what would make a good memorable movie. It’s sadly something that is going to take a while to change, but luckily, when a passion-filled project does come out, and you see how much effort and thought was put into it, it makes the experience enjoyable. This is where the recently released The Little Prince fits in. This is an American/French collaboration with the director of the first Kung Fu Panda, Mark Osbourne. It was originally set to be released in theaters in the states March of this year by Paramount, but for one reason or another, they dropped it. Some say it would have been dealing with big releases during that time, but if I have learned anything this year, The Little Prince would have had no competition besides Zootopia and The Jungle Book, due to the Hollywood machine putting out more flops and underperformers of projects no one wanted. Luckily, it was picked up by Netflix and was released on August 5th. So, what do I think of this movie? Let’s check it out!

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While this film is about the book, The Little Prince, it actually has a lot more in common with a film I love, The Fall. Essentially, a small girl, voiced by Mackenzie Foy, lives with her mother, voiced by Rachel McAdams, and a father who is always away at work. While training and getting prepared to be accepted into a high-end academy, the girl ends up befriending an eccentric old man named the Aviator, voiced by Jeff Bridges. Over the course of their friendship, the little girl learns about the story that the Aviator wrote, known as The Little Prince, a story about a young boy with the same name, voiced by Riley Osborne. Will the young girl learn to grow up, but never forget about childhood?

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So, is what’s great and interesting about this film? Well, to the few that may have not have watched this movie, the film is not just about The Little Prince. It actually uses the book itself as a device for the themes of the film. Now, is that a bad thing, like some critics make it out to be? I mean, it is called The Little Prince, and it should be about the book. However, I feel like the critics who can’t get past the fact that this isn’t 100% about the book, and this is probably the only time I’m ever going to say it, they didn’t get it. They were too set on this film being a 100% adaptation of a rather short book. They act like the additions to the story are as bad as the live action Dr. Seuss books. I guess what I and a majority of people who saw this movie are trying to say is, we disagree. For me, like I mentioned above, I saw a film called The Fall, and it essentially has the same set-up, with an older male character telling a story to a little girl, and how it symbolically relates to the real-life situation of the characters. Seriously, there are a lot of ways you can connect the characters from The Little Prince book with what’s going on with the little girl in the real world. It’s quite in-depth and smart for a film aimed at the whole family. I love a bunch of the symbolic elements, like how the Conceited Man, voiced by Ricky Gervais, represents the ideal of becoming something that is constantly applauded. Or how the Businessman can be connected to how the little girl thinks of her father. I know the theme of “forgetting about your childhood and losing your inner child” might not be the biggest topic as of right now, but in a way, it kind of is. In a world where it seems like there is nothing, but dread on the news, inexplicable presidential politics, violence every other week, and so on, I bet it could feel very daunting to be a kid growing up in this world we live in right now. While it is good to grow up and become more developed as a human being, don’t forget about your childhood.

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I hear some people say the CGI animation is not good, but seriously, have you seen how bad European CGI animation can be? Have you seen The Snow Queen or Sir Billie? Heck, on the contrary, The Little Prince looks amazing. The textures look fantastic, the characters move fluidly, and the designs are very Pixarish in the best way possible. So many films try to have that Pixar and DreamWorks look, and this film captures it perfectly. I mean, it is directed by the guy who was in charge of the original Kung Fu Panda. Of course, one of the biggest elements talked about with this movie is its combination of both CGI animation and stop-motion. The stop-motion looks amazing. It looks like paper craft, and the designs of the CGI models translate well to and from the stop-motion. It’s a beautiful movie, with also a great soundtrack by Hans Zimmer, Richard Harvey, and female singer, Camille.

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I really have no problems with this movie. I kept trying to find a major problem, and I honestly couldn’t. Yeah, I wish there were more stop-motion moments, but there are enough to feel special, and don’t overstay their welcome. I guess my only real complaint is that I wish there was going to be a more wide-spread physical release of the film here in the states. Everywhere else in the world it gets one, and I know Netflix has no plans in releasing their own properties onto other viable formats. Still, I wish I could get my hands on a US copy of the film because I want to see how this film was made, with behind-the-scenes features and interviews with the director and voice actors, something we could have gotten if this film was picked up by GKIDS.

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I really freaking love this movie. It has the passion and timeless feel of an animated film that you rarely see these days. Easily one of the top three best animated films of 2016. It’s such a shame that Paramount Pictures decided to drop this flick. Still, if you live in the states and have Netflix, watch this movie. If you live anywhere else in the world and can buy a copy of the film, then go buy it. Well, while I do wish there were more movies like this, next time, we will be looking at a more polarizing film with Belladonna of Sadness. Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed the review, and see you all next time.

Rating: Criterion/Essential