‘What You Should Know’ is a Rotoscopers series that gives you a detailed and (somewhat) objective rundown of this year’s animated films, right before or on the day they hit theaters. That way, you can make a decision on whether or not to see the movie based on the information provided.
MOVIE: The Secret Life of Pets
DIRECTED BY: Chris Renaud and Yarrow Cheney
WRITTEN BY: Bryan Lynch, Cinco Paul, and Ken Daurio
STARRING: Louis C.K. (Max), Eric Stonestreet (Duke), Kevin Hart (Snowball), Steve Coogan (Ozone), Ellie Kemper (Katie), Bobby Moynihan (Mel), Lake Bell (Chloe), Dana Carvey (Pops), Hannibal Buress (Buddy), and Jenny Slate as Gidget.
MUSIC BY: Alexandre Desplat
STUDIO: Universal Pictures
PRODUCTION COMPANY: Illumination Entertainment
PRODUCTION BUDGET: $75 Million
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?:
The Secret Life of Pets takes the Pixar-esque route of asking an interesting question: what do our beloved pets do when we leave them to their own devices? Built around this concept is the story of Max, a spoiled dog who now has to share his perfect life with a new dog named Duke.
A BRIEF HISTORY:
First announced in 2014, Pets was positioned as the first of two original Illumination features for 2016 (the other being Sing). Nothing else is known about the history of the project, other than that it came together rather quickly in the years leading to its release (by the end of 2014, much of its cast was already assembled).
IMPORTANT STUFF TO KNOW:
Despite being an original project, much of the brain trust behind the Despicable Me franchise is involved with the film. Paul and Daurio wrote all of the main Despicable Me films, while Brian wrote Minions. Chris Renaud also co-directed all of the Despicable Me films, while his Pets co-director Yarrow Cheney was a production designer on Despicable Me 2.
Co-writer Bryan Lynch announced on his Twitter some time ago that he would take a break from animated movies after Pets.
Oh boy. Where to begin.
First off, pet lovers and animal lovers in general will eat. this. up. Pets is the type of film that was tailor-made for this type of audience, so expect those people to come out in droves.
Then, there’s Keven Hart. The man has simply soared in his rise to superstar status in the past few years. While he might not be playing the lead, he’s one of the few comedians (in a cast jam-packed with comedians) who can command a giant box-office draw, regardless of who he’s playing. That’s even more impressive when you consider that Pets is his first major voice role on feature animation.
Also, while this maybe something of a belabored point, I’ll say it again here: Illumination Entertainment has the best marketing team in the entire industry right now. Turn on a TV and you won’t go 10 seconds without seeing an ad for this movie. it’s been screened just about everywhere from Annecy 2016 to VidCon. Ever since the first trailer was launched in front of Minions, the film has enjoyed extended spots on major TV events like the Super Bowl and the NBA playoffs. Pet owners (the people I just talked about earlier) were targeted with customized in-store marketing materials at Petsmart. And to top it off, the film challenges Star Trek Beyond and even Suicide Squad for having the largest social media buzz for any Summer feature.
Oh, an just in case you thought this film was free of the magic touch of the Minions, Illumination is pulling a Pixar by playing a short film before the feature. That short film in question is Mower Minions.
To put it simply, there are too many advantages on this film’s side for Pets to flop.
Okay, let’s play a game for those who aren’t looking forward to the movie: can you name at least five films that Pets reminds you of?
I can. In no particular order: Toy Story, Oliver and Company, Lady and the Tramp, 101 Dalmatians, and Illumination’s Hop.
A constant complaint from those who have seen the trailers is that the film’s plot appears to be a Frankenstein-esque patchwork of tropes and story elements from other animated movies, and they’re not wrong. With Pets, you have a plot outline lifted nearly wholesale from Toy Story, the big city aspect and buddy adventure feel of Oliver and Company, the pet-owner interactions and dialogue and repartee between animal characters in Tramp and Dalmatians, and a villain who appears to have been copy-pasted from Hop (similar motivations, similar actions, etc).
It’s certainly stuff that will annoy anybody who doesn’t have a positive opinion of Illumination to begin with. But it won’t do much to derail the film’s current trajectory…
Looks like Illumination has another box-office winner on its hands. Early tracking revealed that the film should easily unseat Finding Dory as #1 at the box-office with an opening weekend gross of anywhere between $80 to $100 million. That positions the film the be the highest July debut this year and potentially the highest opening for an original animated feature (following Zootopia). It also might be the second best opening for an Illumination Entertainment film (behind Minions), opening above that of the first Despicable Me (both films opened in July).
There are several reasons as to why the estimates are so high. First, the film is coming in during a relatively strong year for animated films, where Kung Fu Panda 3, Zootopia, The Angry Birds Movie, and Finding Dory are opening to solid numbers and leggy box-office runs. Second, positive word-of-mouth has done its part in driving up interest and spiking estimates even higher. Lastly, as I’ve mentioned earlier, the marketing team has pulled out all the stops leading up to the film’s world premiere at the Lincoln Center in New York City.
As if that weren’t enough, the film has already made some bank overseas, where a scattered release across 66 markets has so far resulted in $30 million grossed thus far. Combine that with the predicted domestic estimates and there’s only one conclusion: by next Monday, the film will have already made back it’s modest production budget and then some.
Essentially, Pets will have made enough to start a new franchise for Illumination (not to spoil things, but the end of the film clearly leaves it open for a sequel).
WHAT THE CRITICS ARE SAYING:
The film currently has a 76% ‘Fresh’ rating from Rotten Tomatoes, making it Illumination Entertainment’s best-reviewed film since the first Despicable Me (81%). The critical consensus reads: “Fast-paced, funny, and blessed with a talented voice cast, The Secret Life of Pets offers a beautifully animated, cheerfully undemanding family friendly diversion.
If you’re willing to accept the fact that it doesn’t have an original bone in its body, The Secret Life of Pets should prove a fun Summer trip to the theater.
If this article has you interested in seeing The Secret Life of Pets, buy your tickets here on Fandango!
Thank you for reading this installment of What You Should Know!
What do you think? Are you interested in seeing this film?