Jenny Slate

158: The Secret Life of Pets 2 Review

imageedit_1_2324470505.jpg

(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/camseyeview. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

As a reviewer, I have seen so many arguments and comments thrown at films, studios, brands, and what have you, that are clichéd and boring. One of the most boring and trite comments and arguments I keep seeing are about Illumination Entertainment. Listen, I’m not saying their films are secretly good, or you have to stop hating on them. I will say though that they aren’t lazy. They have talented animators and people there making these films that rake in millions. However, I would argue a more proper criticism would be that they lack ambition, and are too nervous to step out of their safety bubble to expand their horizons of writing and storytelling. There is nothing wrong with not wanting to be a Disney or a Pixar-caliber film, but that doesn’t mean you slack off on the writing, animation, and story. Sooner or later, you will find yourself being forgotten for the next flashy animated experience. It’s actually kind of happening to Illumination’s newest film, The Secret Life of Pets 2. Directed by Illumination Entertainment mainstay Chris Renaud, Pets 2 is the sequel to the smash hit original film from 2016. It came out on June 7th of 2019, and while it was getting the usual mixed-to-mostly-negative reviews, it wasn’t the instant smash hit most of their films tend to be, financially. While it has made $203 mil on its $80 mil budget as of writing this review, it’s not the runaway hit as their other films were. Sure, it’s probably going to make more money as time goes on and after leaving theaters, but it is interesting to see this happen. Are people finally getting tired of Illumination’s style of filmmaking, or was a possibly good film caught victim in 2019’s summer film drought? Well, let’s dive into this world of fluffy animal shenanigans.

imageedit_3_4975598368.jpg

The story once again follows our hero Max, a small dog now voiced by Patton Oswalt. Along with his buddy Duke, voiced by Eric Stonestreet, they are happy with their current life with their owner Katie, voiced by Ellie Kemper. That is, until Katie falls in love with a man she meets named Chuck, voiced by Pete Holmes. After the two get married, they have a kid, and while at first Max and the new kid don’t get along, Max soon begins to love him, and then becomes overly protective and afraid of the world around him. To solve this issue, he and Duke go on a trip to the countryside to a farm, and end up meeting an old sheep dog named Rooster, voiced by Harrison Ford. While this is going on, two other stories are happening. The second story revolves around Gidget, a pomeranian voiced by Jenny Slate, who ends up losing Max’s favorite toy inside the crazy cat lady’s home, and must get the help of Chloe, voiced by Lake Bell, to learn the ways of the cat to get it back. The third story revolves around Snowball, voiced by Kevin Hart, who is contacted by a shih tzu named Daisy, voiced by Tiffany Haddish to help save a tiger that is being held hostage by a cruel circus owner that is voiced by Nick Kroll.

imageedit_5_2168598629.jpg

Yeah, if that sounds like a lot, then it is. Once again, we find Illumination having trouble trying to stretch out plots that could fill the 80+ minute runtime, and it’s not like they couldn’t have. Some of these plots might be generic with typical animated tropes that you have seen before, but at least it would have been focused. They could have easily made this film entirely around Max and Rooster’s dynamic, because the theme of overcoming your fears is not a bad one. I actually enjoyed bits and pieces of Max and Rooster’s relationship with one another, and in a better movie, they probably would have explored the idea of how to overcome your fears. It’s not executed in the best way possible, but I give them credit for at least trying a little. That theme does connect the three stories, but the pacing and flow of the three stories in the film is so awkward, that it keeps abruptly pushing you into each story as it unfolds. It comes off like they weren’t fully sure on how to keep you interested with the multitude of characters that are in the previous film that are now in this film. Most of them don’t really do much, or do anything to help the story. It’s a case of too many characters, huge expensive names attached to them, and they are given little to do. I remember a friend of mine suggesting that this franchise should turn to making a series of shorts or a TV series, and that would make sense. That way, you can flesh everyone out more, and not have to worry about using them, because you forgot to do something with them. The final act has decent action, but due to how low the stakes are, it’s hard to feel invested. Like, it’s so hard to care about half of the storylines because they either end abruptly, or the characters vanish for a mass majority of the film, like the kid and the owner’s new husband. There was seriously no reason to hire Pete Holmes for the role of the husband. He has, like, four lines in the film, and they could have been done by Jeff Bennett or Steve Blum.

imageedit_9_3325181573.jpg

Now, it’s time for some positives. I found the animation to be quite good. It’s another sign that Illumination is still getting better at their animation skills. Character movements and facial expressions are vibrant, and once again, they get little animal characteristics down for the different pets that you see. I also enjoyed the voice cast. Patton Oswalt takes over for Louis C.K. as Max, and to be frank, Patton Oswalt is a way better Max. He knows how to capture that casual innocence of a dog. Harrison Ford is also a pleasant surprise as this was his first voice-over role. Isn’t that surprising? His first voice-over role in his entire career. Anyway, he captures Rooster’s stoic nature, but he also shows he isn’t just a hard-edged individual. Of course, Lake Bell steals any scene that she is in as this pedantic sarcastic cat. The others do a good job, and it was fun to see Dana Carvey as his old dog character from the first film, have a few good laughs in this film with his character interacting with a bunch of puppies.

imageedit_11_5196159824.jpg

There isn’t a whole lot to say about The Secret Life of Pets 2. It’s a dull experience. It might be the most forgettable film Illumination Entertainment has made yet. It might be making a bit of money, but with Toy Story 4 out right now, it’s probably going to dry up. Maybe this is a sign that people are getting tired of Illumination Entertainment, or maybe it’s just a realization that this was never meant to be a big theatrical franchise. Maybe it’s time for them to start making this into a series of shorts, or a TV series for Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime. Maybe with a TV design philosophy, they can flex their creative muscles. All I know is that there is no reason to see this in theaters. I would have been much happier that, since this was animated by a French studio, if it was a smaller character-focused story that has a more laid-back vibe to it. People tend to not know that many French/European/Foreign animated features have very laid-back paces and stories, and that is something American studios can learn from overseas studios. Anyway, it’s time to move onto something that’s more interesting to talk about. Next time, we will talk about one of three Netflix-exclusive animated features out this year with Pachamama. Thanks for reading! I hope you all enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Lackluster!

The Other Side of Animation 77: The LEGO Batman Movie Review

bat01
(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!)

Like I mentioned in my Storks review, The LEGO Movie was a huge worldwide success. It made a lot of money, it was clever, funny, heart-warming, and paved the way for Warner Animation Group to take a stab at the animation market. When it became official that there were going to be more movies based on the colored blocks, it was no surprise, but a tiny bit of hesitation. Could Warner Brothers strike gold twice with more LEGO movies? The true test is definitely in 2017 with the future release of The LEGO Ninjago Movie, and the recent release of The LEGO Batman Movie. Usually when spin-offs are announced to big money-making movies that follow side characters, you worry that the film is going to be a cynical cash grab. Luckily, with the directing of Chris McKay, a story done by Seth Grahame-Smith, and a script written by Seth Grahame-Smith, Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Jared Stern, and John Wittington, this spin-off/next entry of the LEGO universe, The LEGO Batman Movie, was spot on. Why? Let’s build the review brick by brick, and find out.

bat02

Will Arnett returns as the biggest, richest, and most egocentric billionaire man baby, Batman. After stopping yet another heist by the Joker, voiced by Zach Galifianakis, Batman learns that the new police commissioner Barbra Gordon, voiced by Rosario Dawson, wants to hold Batman accountable for his actions, and be able to have the police and Batman work together. After some shenanigans that include all of the villains going to Arkham, Batman unintentionally adopts a young boy named Dick Grayson voiced by Michael Cera. Batman had better learn the meaning of friendship and family, because the Joker might have a sneaky plan.

bat04

So, what makes this movie fantastic, and have such a high grade on Rotten Tomatoes? Well first off, as a LEGO spin-off film, it holds up on its own. Let’s face it. The LEGO Movie was a lightning-in-a-bottle kind of situation, very much like the original Toy Story, Ghostbusters, and Beauty and the Beast. Future films will probably never be that good again, and that should be okay if the end product is still fantastic. Now that we got that out of the way, this is just a good LEGO movie, a good Batman movie, and a good Batman parody movie. Instead of taking from one part of Batman’s history, they take in the entire 80 years or so of history of the character, and shove it into a movie that almost reaches two hours. It shows off the best, the light, the dark, the worst, the funniest, and the weirdest parts of the character and the universe in which Batman lives. I know some people would argue that Batman: The Return of the Caped Crusaders is a better comedic Batman, but I really disagree. While I love Caped Crusaders, I felt like it limited itself by understandably only reaching for material from the Adam West Batman era. It also ran out of steam in the third act that hurt the overall experience. You don’t get that here. The LEGO Batman Movie is a giant love letter to everything amazing and goofy about Batman. It’s quite shocking to see a good spoof and parody film, since for the longest time, the trend of making good and creative spoof films died in the 90s when all the bad parody films were coming out. Why does this one do parody well? It’s because the people that worked on this film knew what they were doing, and love the property. If you are going to make a parody of something, like the Hot Shot and Airplane films, you have to know what you are making fun of, and love it for that reason. If this was made by the hacks behind current spoof movies today (who really should be blacklisted and fired from Hollywood), The LEGO Batman Movie would be nothing but stupid references, that only acknowledge their existence and nothing more. Luckily, the director knew what he was doing, and made sure to give the film a good story, because the team knew they couldn’t just fly by with just Batman-centric jokes. While Batman is definitely an over-the-top comedic version of himself, they do give him a story arc and personality and drive. The same goes for everyone else. Dick Grayson could have easily been the worst aspect of the film, but due to great writing and a fantastic performance by Michael Cera, Dick becomes one of the highlights of the movie. I also adore all the cameos and references, like how Two-Face is played by Billy Dee Williams, who played Two-Face’s alter ego Harvey Dent in the 1989 Batman movie. Even though I could get a lot of the jokes since I have seen Batman over the years, I feel like casual viewers can easily enjoy this movie. It’s not just made for the fans. Just like The LEGO Movie, I liked that the film does make fun of both incarnations of Batman, but doesn’t pick a side. Let’s be honest, Batman can work both in dark storylines and goofy storylines, and somewhere in the middle, too. Even the more serious Batman storylines have really stupid stuff about them, because when dark Batman is done wrong, it’s really bad and can be even more unintentionally goofy. This is a movie that knew what it wanted to do, and executed it almost perfectly, unlike a lot of DC’s live-action film offerings.

bat03

The animation is once again fantastic. It’s well made CGI that gets all those little details of LEGO blocks down perfectly, and while it does suffer from being too hectic at times on screen, due to everything being made of LEGO blocks, the fact that they cleverly limited the movements of everything to make it look stop-motion is still very impressive. All the characters look great, and the little details and side gags are clever and hilarious. I was at a screening with only a few people, and we all laughed hard. It was almost like an Edgar Wright film where you watch it and get a lot of the jokes, but then watch it a second time and can find more little jokes and details that may have been missed by you during the first viewing. The fight sequences are also creative, since if you can’t take advantage of the limitless possibilities of LEGO and the fact it’s animated, then you have failed as a director. The voice cast is perfect. While I know I support the idea of getting non-Hollywood celebrity actors for more theatrical film roles, when the casting is done right, it’s a wonderful thing. I don’t think I could have picked a better cast with Will Arnett, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson, Billy Dee Williams, Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, Adam DeVine, Zach Galifianakis, Ralph Fiennes, Jenny Slate, Eddie Izzard, Seth Green, Jermaine Clement, Ellie Kemper, and you get the idea. It’s a fantastic cast full of actors with big and small roles that just make the overall film fun. I adore the chemistry between Batman and the Joker in a pseudo-romance plot that can only be done with a relationship between Batman and the Joker that isn’t creepy 18+ fanfiction. While Mark Hamill and Heath Ledger are always going to be the best Jokers, animated and live-action, Zach is easily my third favorite Joker. He just brings such a great energy to him.

bat06

If I had to complain about something about this movie, the first 15 or so minutes can be very fast, and then it changes pace abruptly. It’s not distracting, but it’s noticeable, and I can understand if someone found it to be too much at one time. Other than that, the criticisms I have are mostly nitpicks, like some of the jokes don’t land, and sometimes the Batman villains don’t really have enough to them in terms of personality. Still, these weren’t enough to ruin the experience for me.

bat07

While this might not reach the high tier level of The LEGO Movie, The LEGO Batman Movie is easily the best animated movie of 2017 so far. It’s a love letter, a hilarious spoof of Batman, a great Batman movie in and of itself, and a wonderful entry into the LEGO animated universe. It makes me think that Warner Animation Group is going to become the new DreamWorks, which I will tackle in an article in the future. Now then, go see The LEGO Batman Movie. It might already be beating 50 Shades Darker, because it’s a film that everyone should check out. I’m in the mood for more DC, so how about we talk about Justice League Dark? Thanks for reading, and I will see you all next time.

Rating: Go see it!

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

pets01
(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.

pets02

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.

pets03

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.

pets04

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.

pets05

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.

pets06

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!