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Review: ‘The Secret Life of Pets’ Has More Bark Than Bite

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The Secret Life of Pets MovieSpoon.com

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]here are animated movies that have stories of real character and those that just want to make jokes. Illumination Entertainment, best known for their success of Despicable Me and Minions and now The Secret Life of Pets, seems to only be interested in jokes.

The Secret Life of Pets MovieSpoon.com

One dog finds a new use for a mixer.

At some point in the studio, the animators started drawing up some gags based on pets. They kept going with comical ideas about what pets might do when we’re not looking – from waiting patiently at the door to using appliances as massage instruments. These visual gags continued to mount until the studio decided they should make a movie out of this concept. They clearly didn’t have a story, but such trivial aspects do not matter to a studio that specializes in cute and crazy. Just slap on a standard adventure across the city, add some celebrity voice talents and production can proceed with animating dogs, cats, birds and bunnies doing wild comedy.

Max (Louis C.K.), a simplistic little terrier, has his happy life with his young hipster owner threatened by an addition to his Manhattan apartment. His master, Katie (Ellie Kemper), brings home a large and dominant Newfoundland by the name of Duke (Eric Stonestreet). The high-spirited Duke decides not to share, as the living space appears to not be big enough for the two of them.

The Secret Life of Pets MovieSpoon.com

The new dog Duke makes a grand entrance.

They fight and squabble until they find themselves lost on the streets of New York City where they’ll have to cooperate to make it back home. Their buddy adventure is typical enough that even the movie feels the need to glaze over much of their predictable arc. Don’t expect to care about this duo the same way you did with Woody and Buzz Lightyear or Marlon and Dory; the movie won’t let you get that involved.

The second and far more interesting plot in The Secret Life of Pets involves Max’s best friend and love interest, a Pomeranian by the name of Gidget (Jenny Slate), staging a search and rescue. On her quest, she assembles a host of interesting characters including a lonely hawk (Albert Brooks), a reluctant cat (Lake Bell) and an old basset hound (Dana Carvey) that’s been around the block enough times to know how to navigate a construction site.

Gidget’s adventure is just as predictable, but has a much different drive and far better gags. Her stumbling into a party of dogs sniffing butts in a circle and filming pet-related accidents for viral videos easily trumps Max and Duke having a non sequitur of a sausage factory raid (complete with a dream sequence of dancing meat that I’m sure will come back to haunt me when viewing Sausage Party).

Stealing the show in The Secret Life of Pets is the antagonist bunny Snowball (Kevin Hart), the leader of an underground gang devoted to exterminating pet owners. That may sound as if they’re a dangerous group, but, in the realm of Illumination Entertainment, they’re all talk. In this sense, Kevin Hart is perfectly cast as an insane rabbit that runs his mouth about killing humans. Snowball and his band of evil pets only exist for more jokes and a light amount of danger. It’s no surprise or spoiler to reveal that everything will work out for this cute little bunny gone bad. We couldn’t have anything bad happen to such a cuddly figure.

The Secret Life of Pets MovieSpoon.com

Kevin Hart is feisty as the bunny Snowball in ‘The Secret Life of Pets.’

For kids and pet owners, the gags and characters are cute and clever. The first ten minutes of showcasing the behavior of pets when humans head off to work could have made for the perfect short film. It’s simple, sweet, amusing and is thankfully utilized as a satisfying bookend to the picture. It’s not until the movie starts looking for a standard lost-in-the-city story that the movie starts to lose its way. There should be some chemistry and comradery to the adventures of Max and Duke, but it seems to be sideswiped at every turn for more examinations of pet behavior.

There’s a unique moment when Duke finds the house of his old master and is dismayed to discover that he died years ago. There should be some real emotion here, but we’re never given enough time to develop these characters to feel much of anything. The movie seems to rely on them just being cute pets as their only development, never spending too much time on any one moment that isn’t silly or frenetic.

Read more to check out the trailer for The Secret Life of Pets:

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Box Office

“Ralph” Reigns Again on Slow Box Office Weekend

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We’re currently in the eye of the fall movie storm. All is fairly quiet this weekend. The only new release was that of a small horror film, The Possession of Hannah Grace. So small, in fact, that it only came in at #7 for the weekend with a gross of $6.5 million. As such, few films moved very far from their spots. Last weekend’s winner, the animated adventure Ralph Breaks The Internet, was once again on top, even though it wasn’t a very strong second weekend of $25 million, a 54% drop. Still, the film has made $119 million so far and is well on its way to covering its $175 million budget.

Surprisingly jumping up a spot is Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch, the latest animated film Illumination Studios based on the classic Christmas book. The film jumped up from #3 to #2, making $17 million with the domestic gross now up to $203 million. Creed II, the sequel to the Rocky spinoff, took a step down for its second weekend, grossing $16 million with a domestic total of $81 million. It’s no surprise that the biggest drop of the weekend was Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, the sequel to the Harry Potter spinoff. Due to low critic ratings and poor fan reactions, the film tumbled 61% with its domestic gross sitting at $134 million.

Ivo Nandi stars as Moscow Referee and Florian Munteanu as Viktor Drago in CREED II,
a Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures and Warner Bros. Pictures film.
Credit: Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures / Warner Bros. Pictures
© 2018 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. and Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.
All Rights Reserved.

View the full top 10 box office winner for the weekend below.

Ralph Breaks The Internet ($25,756,000)
Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch ($17,730,000)
Creed II ($16,832,863)
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald ($11,200,000)
Bohemian Rhapsody ($8,100,000)
Instant Family ($7,150,000)
The Possession of Hannah Grace ($6,500,000)
Robin Hood ($4,700,000)
Widows ($4,400,000)
Green Book ($3,900,000)

Next weekend is so sparse with new content that the biggest release is going to be an anniversary screening of Schindler’s List, hitting 1,000 screens. It’s a good time to take in some smaller releases as Mary Queen of Scots, Ben is Back, and Vox Lux will be having limited releases. So it’s safe to expect a repeat of this weekend’s trends in the box office.


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Box Office

“Ralph” Breaks The Box Office, “Creed” Close Behind

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Thanksgiving week is a time for family and there were plenty out to the theater last week for an animated family picture. Ralph Breaks The Internet, the Disney-animated sequel to 2012’s video game adventure comedy Wreck-It Ralph, came in at #1 for the weekend with $55 million and $84 million since its debut on Wednesday. This puts it above the Disney studio’s previous Thanksgiving hit Moana, which had a 5-day total of $82 million.

Not too far behind is Creed II, the sequel to the Rocky spin-off starring Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone. The boxing sequel took in $35 million for the weekend and $55 million since Wednesday. This is a stronger opening than the first film which came in at $29 million for the weekend.

And it was slim leftovers for the two other debuts. Robin Hood, the latest action remake of the classic tale, came in at #7 with only $9 million for the weekend, $14 million since Wednesday. Green Book, a drama about a black singer in the racist south of America, came in at #9 for its expanded week to make $5 million for the weekend and $7 million for its domestic total.

The Crimes of Grindelwald is not fairing to well for its second weekend. The Harry Potter spin-off has dropped to #4 with a domestic weekend gross of $30 million, a 52% drop. The film still hasn’t cleared its $200 million budget with a domestic gross of $117 million and it looks like it may never cross that mark as we head into December with more genre titles. Beating it out for #3 is Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch, the theatrically animated adaptation by Illumination, that is proving to have great legs coming into the holiday season. Worth noting at #10 is A Star Is Born, its domestic total now having crossed $191 million to make it one of the most profitable films of the year.

View the full top 10 box office results for the weekend below:

Ralph Breaks The Internet ($55,672,000)
Creed II ($35,293,000)
Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch ($30,210,000)
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald ($29,650,000)
Bohemian Rhapsody ($13,855,000)
Instant Family ($12,500,000)
Robin Hood ($9,125,000)
Widows ($7,955,000)
Green Book ($5,443,000)
A Star is Born ($3,005,000)

Next weekend is, well, it’s pretty dead. So dead that a ghost movie is occupying the rather blank spot. Possession of Hannah Grace, a modest horror production, will be arriving in under 2,000 theaters. So it’s fair to say you can expect Ralph to breakthrough for another weekend of success.


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“Creed II” Gets Raw and Rickety with Rocky-isms

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Creed II, despite showing no shortage of boxing enthusiasm, falls prey to all the predictable theatrics and pitfalls of a sports sequel. It takes the character of Adonis Creed and prepares him to weather familiar territory in the Rocky franchise, pumping him up for the long haul of taking on new challenges. It’s very much a “more” sequel; more intensity in the fights, more drama stirred up outside the ring, and more theatrical music to turn the one-on-one boxing matches into towering and thunderous battles of gods. And while Creed certainly still has some of that charm in its eyes and adrenaline in its veins, there’s an unfortunate feeling one can’t shake that there’s not a lot of new tricks for this spin-off franchise.

Michael B. Jordan still has the right stuff as Adonis Creed. He’s a fierce competitor when he slips on the gloves and a fearful mess when it comes to taking the next step in his relationship with his best girl Bianca (Tessa Thompson). His mentor Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) is still in his corner to coach his many matches but there’s one fight he won’t be there for. Remember Ivan Drago from Rocky IV? He’s back, reprised by Dolph Lundgren, and has a new young Russian contender, his son Viktor (Florian Munteanu), ready to defeat Rocky’s boxing apprentice. You may recall that Drago was the one who killed Creed’s father, Apollo. Time for a revenge fight!

Michael B. Jordan stars as Adonis Creed and Sylvester Stallone as Rocky Balboa in
CREED II, a Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures and Warner Bros. Pictures film.
Credit: Barry Wetcher / Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures / Warner Bros. Pictures
© 2018 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. and Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.
All Rights Reserved.

The story makes its intentions clear from the first scene where Creed repeats the inspiring mantra of only fighting for himself and proving nothing to nobody else. Indeed, Jordan remains the centerpiece so prominently he pushes aside all other characters and arcs. Consider how Ivan has a lot riding on this fight, not only to seek revenge but also to gain the favor of his country and his ex-wife, who apparently left him for being a loser. It sounds a little too cartoonish of a villain plot and the film almost out of mercy never draws too much attention to this plight. Also absent from the second half is Buddy Marcelle (Russell Hornsby), another villain trying to push the boxing narrative of Creed vs. Drago and keep that match on the schedule. There’s a lingering theme amid these characters about when the fight isn’t worth it, yet all that questioning evaporates when the film quickly settles into being the guaranteed crowd pleaser of Adonis winning the fight.

Purely on the aspect of boxing, the film is neat to watch. It plays up the theatrics of the matches with an epic score and gets up close and personal with the punches. You feel every blow as the soundtrack boasts the brutal slugs to the face and ribs, almost as loud and grand as the epic music trying to drive the excitement up further. And while it is thrilling to get engaged in the main events of the picture, there’s that lesser drama that hinders a bigger film. Consider how Drago’s son seems defeated before the final blow is struck, more emotionally than physically. The triumphant punch across the face with a rousing reprisal of that old Rocky theme is all but assured at that point.

Florian Munteanu stars as Viktor Drago and Michael B. Jordan as Adonis Creed in CREED II,
a Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures and Warner Bros. Pictures film.
Credit: Barry Wetcher / Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures / Warner Bros. Pictures
© 2018 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. and Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.
All Rights Reserved.

Where the film kept winning me back wasn’t so much in the fights but in the quieter drama. There’s an ease to scenes where Rocky and Creed are merely talking about family and what’s most important in life. The two of them ooze with warmth where I found myself particularly charmed at a simple departure of Creed asking if Rocky is good and he gives a relaxed assurance before strolling off to let Adonis purpose to Bianca. And while the scenes between Jordan and Thompson are rather sweet, there’s no stopping the power of Phylicia Rashad as Creed’s mother, dominating scenes where she playfully asks about kids and powerfully puts the boy in his place when it comes to choosing his battles.

While I enjoyed Creed II and have no doubt that it’ll inspire cheers in the theater, I couldn’t help but notice all the tired tropes being unearthed, properly dusted off as they may be. There’s a training montage, a fall from grace, and plenty of televised boxing decadence. The first Creed film was exciting and inspiring because it felt new and refreshing. Creed II, however, gets too comfortable with that old Rocky formula, where the film becomes more centered on the match than the character. We certainly get a rousing fight but little more than that as Creed II comes up abundant on muscle and lower on the relatable human aspects. Here’s hoping Creed III won’t feature him fighting Mr. T’s protege.


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