Film Review: “The Secret Life of Pets

Starring the voices of: Louis C.K., Eric Stonestreet and Kevin Hart
Directed by: Yarrow Cheney and Chris Renaud
Rated: PG
Running time: 1 hour 30 mins

Our Score: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

As a long time dog lover (and owner), I would be lying if I didn’t tell you I’ve been looking forward to this movie since I saw the first trailer last year. And while that trailer promised a fun look at what our doggies and kitties do when we leave the house, it’s not all fun and games. In fact, you can say it’s a dangerous jungle out there.

Meet Max (C.K.). A friendly dog who has lived with Katie (Ellie Kemper) since he was a pup. Life is good for Max, who spends his time with Katie snuggling and playing with his ball. His time without her is either spent watching the front door until she comes home or hanging out with his fellow pet friends in the neighborhood. However, things change when Katie brings home Duke (Stonestreet), a big shaggy mess of a dog she picks up at the pound. When Max and Duke find themselves on the run from Animal Control, they must join forces or face the consequences.

First the good stuff. “The Secret Life of Pets” is from the same studio that brought you the adorable Minions from the “Despicable Me” films, and the animation is amazing. One scene finds our two pups in water that looks so realistic you can feel the wetness. The characters are well voiced. Besides the two main mutts, Kevin Hart is perfectly cast as an evil bunny while Jenny Slate, Albert Brooks and Dana Carvey shine as well.

Now the bad stuff. Did you notice above when I referred to Kevin Hart as a EVIL bunny? That’s because he is. When Max and Duke find themselves underneath the street and in the sewers of New York City they come across a group made up of animals that have been flushed down the toilet. They are only accepted when they tell a gruesome story about how the killed their masters. KILLED THEIR MASTERS! I almost fell out of seat. Have we come to a point where it’s o.k. for a cute cartoon bunny to jokingly talk about murder in a PG rated film? And a fellow critic pointed out how weird it was that the soundtrack features the song “Bounce” by System of a Down which, depending on who you talk to, is either about drug use or an orgy. Jeesh!

Film Review: “Finding Dory”

Starring the Voice Of: Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks and Hayden Rolence
Directed By: Andrew Stanton
Rated: G
Running Time: 103 minutes
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Our Score: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

Back in 2003, “Finding Nemo” was the crown jewel of animated movies. After 13 more years of storytelling innovation and cleverness on Pixar’s end, “Finding Nemo” isn’t quite the pinnacle of Pixar’s animation catalogue anymore. It’s known that Pixar is willing to do sequel, just as long as it’s as emotionally resonant and intellectually stimulating as the original. “Finding Dory” does both, even while treading familiar waters.

The protagonist this time around is Dory (DeGeneres), obviously. The blue surgeonfish still suffers from short-term memory loss, but one of Nemo’s (Rolence) class field trips knocks a cobweb loose in Dory’s brain. Memories of her parents come flooding back in an instant. Soon Dory’s head is swimming in a sea of longing and sorrow for her parents. The how’s and why’s of her separation from her parents are still a bit fuzzy, but those will come as the story progresses.

Marlin (Brooks) begrudgingly follows Dory on her journey. “Finding Dory” is a more compact journey. Instead of crossing the vast ocean, the trio heads to California where they wind up at the Monterey Marine Institute and get separated. Dory is snatched up and placed inside the confines of the rescue center. As she slowly makes her way around, Marlin and Nemo spend the movie playing catch-up.

There isn’t any real peril, since the humans they encounter don’t want to hurt them and the other aquatic life populating the Institute are all non-aggressive. But Pixar has always been able to do a lot with a just a little. The smaller confines of the settings give way to Dory utilizing an octopus (referred to as a septopus by Dory because one of tentacles was ripped off) named Hank (Ed O’Neil). Hank provides the out of water transportation for Dory, eliminating a lot of the unique ways that the fish could possibly be using to get around. But that’s just a small complaint in an otherwise nearly perfect film.

Ever since “Cars 2”, there’s been apprehension before every Pixar movie. Especially in a sequel that seems warrantless. But the folks behind “Finding Dory” have repackaged and rebranded what made the first one so good. The animation, as always, is a mesmerizing Kaleidoscope trip through the sea. It’s easy to get washed over by the stunning imagery and forgot about the small little tweaks here and there that continually push what the boundaries of computer animation.

DeGeneres is tasked with carrying a lot of the poignant plot points through Dory. The blue fish that was a gag in the original now provides a lot of the heart-rending story. It’s nice to see the childlike wonder of Dory turn into childlike pain that her parents are gone. The themes are either hidden, creating a greater depth of meaning, or the themes are upfront and in focus so that kids can subconsciously learn and grow in a positive way. Pixar once again finds a way to make adults and kids alike find that soft spot of their heart that brings a tear to the eye.

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