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)?