Illumination Entertainment, News, Studios

Annecy 2016: ‘The Secret Life of Pets’ Premieres to an “Enthusiastic” Festival Reception!

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This report is part of Rotoscopers’ coverage of the 2016 Annecy International Animated Film Festival. Check these links here for more news as it comes. Stay tuned for the full Annecy 2016 report!

Illumination Entertainment, perhaps more than any other major studio, has made the Annecy International Animated Film Festival the primary spot for world premieres of their films. First it was Despicable Me 2, which became the most profitable film in Universal Pictures’ 101-year history. Then, at last year’s festival outing was Minions, which went on to become Illumination Entertainment’s first film to gross $1 billion worldwide.

But the question on the minds of those who are looking forward to seeing the movie (or aren’t looking forward to seeing the movie) is probably this: is The Secret Life of Pets, the studio’s sixth film, any good?

Well, if festival reactions and early reception from critics are of any indication, it is!

According to a short write-up on Variety, The Secret Life of Pets premiered on June 14 to frequent laughs and an enthusiastic two-minute applause from the attending audience after the credits rolled.

Individual reactions were equally positive, with praise centered around the film’s humor and depiction of animal life. “When you don’t think animation can do anything new with animals, Illumination comes along and surprises you,” one audience member said. It was then noted that the reception at the festival was more positive overall than for Minions.

The first reviews of the movie also came from those in the audience, in particular the professional critics who attended Annecy 2016. Peter Debruge of Variety was the first positive review, calling it “the studio’s most accomplished feature.” He praised both the story and animation, in particular the “fresh” personalities of the sprawling cast of characters, while criticizing the film’s familiar formula and the constant ‘marathon’ of hit-and-miss gags. He also gave the film applauds for all the different ways that the directors and writers tap into the bond between pets and their owners, even as he noted that the film doesn’t dig deep enough into the emotion of the concept.

Wendy Ide of Screen Daily also had nice things to say about the film, calling it a “madcap caper full of densely-packed sight gags, dizzying action set pieces and a healthy side-helping of (co-director) Renaud’s trademark silliness.” In particular, she praised Alexandre Desplat’s “jaunty” score as helping along the pace of the film and naming a “sausage-fueled” fantasy sequence as the film’s best gag. Like with Debruge, Ide also noted that the “trajectory of the story holds few surprises and the plot does owe a lot to other films.” Nonetheless, she called called the execution “flawless”, the animation and action scenes “lurid and crisp”, and the comedic timing “impeccable”.

In contrast, Jordan Mintzer of The Hollywood Reporter was considerably less than impressed. Like with others, he found the activities and interactions of the pets to be the best part of the movie. But for him, that enjoyment stalls when it gives way to what he calls a “loud and loopy caper plot, taking a clever idea to mostly familiar places in the long run.” He also had problems with the film’s crowded cast and progressively “outlandish” plot. “Occasionally all the fuss results in a memorable set-piece — such as a digression into a sausage factory that nods to both Grease and a Busby Berkley musical — but by the time the third act rolls around, the cacophony grows exhausting and the laughs become rarer, especially when all the action-movie antics take over.”

He was not without his share of praises, particularly on the technical side. He was impressed by directors Chris Renaud and Yarrow Cheney’s “fever-dream” version of New York City, which he described as “vertically exuberant”. He was equally impressed by the animation and rendering of details on the animals, complete with “a lively and colorful palette that recalls Technicolor films of the 1950s.” Lastly, he was (like other critics) enamored over Alexandre Desplat’s score, which also recalled classic Manhattan-based films like Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

Now, you might be saying to yourself: “Well, that was just the Annecy crowd. Surely, this won’t translate into largely positive reviews, right?!” Well…

As things stand right now, The Secret Life of Pets sits at an 84% ‘Fresh’ rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 25 reviews counted thus far. Should the number stay or grow in the days leading to the film’s July 8 release, Pets stands a solid chance of becoming Illumination Entertainment’s best-reviewed film yet.

But will that be enough to convince the hardcore cynics (you know who you are) that Illumination can make a good animated movie? We’ll have to find out next week, won’t we?

What do you think? If you were in the Annecy 2016 crowd, did you see the movie? If you did, what were your thoughts on Pets (no spoilers, of course)?

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About Brandon Smith

Brandon is your average nerd with a love for nerdy things (games, comics, anime/manga, etc.). He also loves reading and writing and plans to be an author someday. For now, he writes with passion and curiosity about the world of animation. He lives with his family in North Carolina and is currently attending college.
  • Manuel Orozco

    I’m looking forward to Secret Life of Pets next week! May not be Despicable Me 2 level awesomeness but what the hey?

  • I think this movie stands a chance. Glad not every single review is overly positive; it’s easy to lose yourself and expect –insert fav. movie– kind of work if everyone shouts praises. Im guessing this film isn’t going to be a groundbreaking, but it certainly will be worth a watch. I personally am excited and will be seeing this opening day, but then again I watch just about any film opening day or weekend.

    • Manuel Orozco

      I may go see it next Saturday

  • Kinda shocked this is getting a really good reception, it still really reminds me of Toy Story and just nothing stands out about this movie to me yet
    But will still watch it when its maybe on streaming

    • Dave 52

      Just because we have seen the story before and it is similar to another movie doesn’t mean it can’t be good or enjoyable you know.

      • Manuel Orozco

        Toy Story may be one of my all time favorites but that’s not going to stop me from enjoying this new movie.

    • Manuel Orozco

      I’m just going to see it in theatres and I agree on everything else you said

  • Ryan Prieto

    Im excited to see it cats and dogs all lovin’ on each other sign me up. It Will also be a good chance for illumination to spread out past the minions

    • Manuel Orozco

      Well if you want some Minions, you’re in luck because a Minion short is attached to the Secret Life of Pets.

      • Ryan Prieto

        I’m good on minions… forever. I am happy they are going away from them. They were a great jumping off point to success though.

        • Manuel Orozco

          I don’t get what you are saying

          • Ryan Prieto

            I just don’t want anymore minions related movies. Life of pets seems like something different which is exciting to me.

          • Manuel Orozco

            That’s okay if you don’t want it that’s fine because I do

        • Monkey

          They are going to kill Gru in the first 3 minuts of Despicable Me 3

          • Ryan Prieto

            That would be so sad… although it would give some good motivation to his daughters to become super villains.

  • Gregory

    It’s going to bomb. Too much competition in the box office right now. Especially with Finding Dory still out, and a glut of releases..

    • brandon

      I should probably save this info for my ‘What You Should Know’ article, but I’ll lay this out anyway:

      According to early estimates, Pets might potentially kill two birds with one stone by recouping its production budget and scoring the highest July opening this year: http://deadline.com/2016/07/star-trek-beyond-box-office-projection-ghostbusters-secret-life-of-pets-1201782223/

      Sure, it’s sitting on a busy release date, but there are too many advantages on Illumination’s side for analysts to smell blood in the water.

      • Oh wow that’s really interesting. From what I’ve seen the public is a lot more devoted to illuminations than the animation community is?

        • brandon

          From what I’ve observed, Illumination is a master of making smart business decisions that result in top-grossing movies, much to the chagrin of most of the animation community (including a majority of people on this website), who see their films as damaging the true potential of animation by relying solely on cheap tricks and safe gimmicks stitched around a bankable premise.

          • Dave 52

            “much to the chagrin of most of the animation community (including a majority of people on this website), who see their films as damaging the true potential of animation by relying solely on cheap tricks and safe gimmicks stitched around a bankable premise.”

            Why are people even thinking like that when it comes to their films? I mean for films like Minions, The Lorax, and HOP is understandable but Despicable Me 1 and 2 are good, solid movies from the company. I don’t really see how they are the company that is “damaging the true potential of animation”. I think that is going a bit overboard. It doesn’t matter if they have a bankable premise for a film or if they do things we have seen before in other films because it all comes down to HOW they do it and if the films are still good despite the fact we have seen some of the story from other films. If The Secret Life Of Pets is a good film that stands on it’s own despite the fact that we have seen some of the story before it could be a good example of a good film that is still enjoyable and entertaining even though we have seen most of it before.

          • brandon

            Ah, a defender of Illumination. You wouldn’t be the first, but you are in the minority.

            Here’s a harsh truth: some people aren’t as easily entertained or easily forgiving as you are. You can put some of that down to the internet mentality of swift judgment over solid thought, but it mostly stems from wanting more out of animated films than the typical laugh-a-minute comedies that the medium is largely defined by (in the US).

            You might not agree, but it’s why some see Illumination Entertainment’s films as holding back the medium from being more than ‘kids’ stuff’.

          • Dave 52

            I am not easily entertained, but I am easily forgiving. If a film is good despite some of the flaws it has than that is just fine, at least in the end it did ended up good. When Illumination does something right and makes a truly good film than I will defend them.

            Also, we live in a time now where animated films can be very diverse in what they want to be. Some can be “laugh-a-minute comedies” other can be comedies with drama, some can be flat out dramas, action and adventure, etc. That is what makes the realm of animation great, it can be what we want it to be and everyone has their own style of making an animated movie. There is nothing wrong if Illumination wants their movies to be “laugh-a-minute comedies” (Heck, some of the best animated movies are “laugh-a-minute comedies”) that is their style and as long as it results in films that are good then I do not see why people (particularity some on this website) give them flak or say they are the reason why animation is being held back from being more than ‘kids’ stuff especially when there are adults who like their films. Hopefully, Pets and Sing shows people they can make good films and take something we have seen before and still make it feel different and make a good film out of it.

            However, some of the points you are making do make sense.

  • I was really looking forward to the film when the first teaser dropped, but some of the recent trailers have caused my interest to wane.