- Actors: Louis C.K., Eric Stonestreet, Kevin Hart, Jenny Slate, Ellie Kemper
- Director: Chris Renaud
- Writers: Cinco Paul, Ken Daurio, Brian Lynch
- Producers: Chris Meledandri, Janet Healy
- Format: 4K, Digital_copy
- Language: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo), French (Dolby Digital 5.1)
- Subtitles: French, Spanish, English
- Region: All Regions
- Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
- Rated: PG
- Studio: Universal Studios Home Entertainment
- Release Date: December 6, 2016
- Digital Copy Expiration Date: May 2, 2018
Illumination Entertainment (an animation production company owned by Universal Studios) has established a distinct style in their releases, offering a welcome variation from the type of animated movies being made by Disney and Pixar. This is similar to the contrast that Disney once had with Warner Bros. animation, which makes sense considering how much the Illumination Entertainment titles seem to resemble the classic Looney Tunes style of comedy chaos. This was a welcome return to style, especially since Warner Bros. have been far more interested in the superhero franchise and have dedicated most of their attention on a string on animated comic book movies (even including a Lego Movie spin-off dealing exclusively with the toy version of Batman).
Illumination first filled that gap with the world-dominating villain prototype, commonly used by Looney Tunes cartoons through the years. Despicable Me not only inspired a sequel (and another in the works), but it also gave birth to the instantly successful underlings known as “Minions,” who then received their own standalone movie. While The Secret Life of Pets has a story far more grounded in reality than their past films, the slapstick style of comedy reaches a new level of irreverence. It is the type of unsentimental comedy gold that made Looney Tunes more popular than Disney during its heyday.
The plot is fairly simple, and at times the story feels a bit too derivative of Toy Story despite stylistic differences. A pampered New York City terrier named Max (voiced by Louis C. K.) finds his world turned upside down when his kind owner takes in a stray dog in need of a home. Duke (Eric Stonestreet) is large and unruly, putting Max’s orderly existence into chaos. During an attempt to get rid of Duke, Max and his new roommate are accidentally lost in the middle of the city without their dog collars. Pursued by dog catchers and a group of abandoned pets living in the sewer (headed up by a bunny voiced brilliantly by Kevin Hart), Duke and Max try and find their way back home with the help of the neighborhood pets.
The fear of being replaced by a new pet (or toy) is a subtle way for these animated films to address the issue of sudden changes to the family dynamic, such as the arrival of a new sibling. At the same time, many of the film’s humorous references will only be caught by the adult audience members, providing a good balance of entertainment for each. The only issue that may concern some parents is the level of violence within the film, though it is still a fraction of what was once commonplace in classic Looney Tunes cartoons.
However much the story and style of The Secret Life of Pets resembles cartoons from the past, the animation is actually quite cutting edge. The dedication to realism is limited mostly to the surroundings, allowing the features of the pets to be exaggerated slightly for effect. And this is a colorful film, which is even more impressive through the high dynamic range of the 4K Ultra HD disc. Animation is always the first to be impacted by new technological advancements, and this is clear in the pristine and dynamic presentation of The Secret Life of Pets. The film looks good on Blu-ray (and even DVD, I imagine), but 4K offers a new level of immersion. While the Blu-ray release includes a DVD copy of the film, the 4K includes a Blu-ray disc. Both have a code for a Digital HD copy of the film.
The special features are highlighted by 3 short films, one of which is a Minion movie that was shown in theaters prior to the feature film. The remaining extras are mostly only slightly less fun, containing elements that will amuse the younger audience members rather than providing information about the production. The exception may be a featurette with interviews from the film’s producers, directors, and writer, as well as a look at the animation process in two featurettes, each under 5 minutes. Most of the extras are just silly fun, including brief “Mystery Science Theater 3000” spoof videos, with Minions watching sections of this film. There is also a featurette on pets featuring Kevin Hart and one on the pet hairstyles with Eric Stonestreet. There are also two variations on a sing-a-long feature and a brief collection of memorable scenes from the bunny voiced by Hart.
Entertainment Value: 8.5/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 7.5/10
Historical Significance: 7/10
Special Features: 8/10