Friday, December 9, 2016

Blu-ray 3D Review: “The Secret Life of Pets”

Movie: **** out of 5
Video: *****
Audio: **** 1/2
Extras: *** 1/2

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The tagline for The Secret Life of Pets asks you to wonder what your pets do all day. As the owner of two mini dachshunds, I can assure you, they have never come close to the film’s level of shenanigans. I think.

Directors Chris Renaud (both Despicable Me films and The Lorax abomination) and Yarrow Cheney (making his feature debut) may have managed to only produce a carbon copy of the original Toy Story, but they made sure to fill their film with enough laughs, misadventures, and delightful characters to ensure maximum entertainment. And now, The Secret Life of Pets is available to take home in a 3D/2D/DVD/Digital HD combo pack.

Our pets in question make up quite the menagerie. Lead by Max (voiced by Louis C.K.), he winds up on the adventure of a lifetime after he manages to get himself and his new “brother” Duke (voiced by Eric Stonestreet) lost on the streets of the Big Apple. Back at the apartment complex, Max’s friends join forces to help find Max — and Duke, if necessary — before winding up either caught by animal control or fed to sewer gators by the tougher-than-he-looks bunny Snowball (voiced by Kevin Hart).

Universal Pictures lets these Pets off the leash with a spectacular 3D transfer. With a screen-filling 1.85:1 aspect ratio, it makes the pets’ low-to-the-ground worldview look larger than life. Depth is always consistent, with zero instances of crosstalk or ghosting. Colors are bright and vivid with crush never a factor and even in low light it never takes a hit on depth. Aliasing is also never an issue, something that will make viewers breathe a sigh of relief considering the amount of animal hair that’s always on screen. There are also some standout 3D scenes featuring some snakes that feel like they’re coming out of the screen and stretching all the way into your lap!

As gorgeous as the 3D transfer is, the “downgraded” 7.1 Dolby TrueHD sound mix is almost as stellar. Directionality is spot on with perfect pans helping the action become as enveloping as any big budget, live-action blockbuster. Bass keeps the action thumping along while the music and sound effects soar from all speakers creating a full 360-degree of sound. Dialogue is always clean and prioritized to make sure you never miss out on any jokes. Just about the only thing that could have made it a better listen would be a full setup to take advantage of the Dolby Atmos mix. Additional language tracks include a Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital Plus and French Canadian Dolby Digital 5.1 while subtitles include English, French, and Spanish.

The special features offer up a solid behind-the-scenes peek at how these CGI-fests are made. The kids may not give two cents about them, but at least there’s something more for the adults in case they’re interested. “The Humans that Brought You Pets” (8:43) features interviews with the directors, writers, and producers, and come with a Play All function. “Meet the Team” with Chris Meledandri, Janet Healy, Chris Renaud, Yarrow Cheney, and Brian Lynch talk about the inspiration for the film being how owners tend to invest their pets with rich emotional lives; something any owner will understand. “Animals Can Talk” (3:47) is a chance to “Meet the Actors” and we find Hart, Lake Bell, Bobby Moynihan, Stonestreet, and Jenny Slate reading lines and talking about how much fun they had.

“All About the Pets” (6:62) features animal trainer Molly O’Neill joined by Hart and Stonestreet as they stand around and handle everything from a kitten and chick to a tarantula and python. “Hairstylist to the Dogs” (3:41) joins Stonestreet and hairstylist to the stars Jess Rona for some simple grooming tips.

“How to Make an Animated Film” (4:13) gives us a look behind the curtain with the directors, producers, co-writer Lynch, and composer Eric Guillon explaining how, with so many cooks involved, they have to make sure that everyone is on the same page for the essence of the film to make sure everything knits together. “Anatomy of a Scene” (4:46) shows all the different elements it takes just to make sure that one scene comes together perfectly.

“The Best of Snowball” (1:15) is a greatest hits collection of some of the character’s funniest moments. “Lovely Day” Lyric Video (2:23)  features the pets playing amongst the song’s lyrics. “Hot Dog Sing-Along” (1:12) features onscreen lyrics to the film’s hilarious musical number featuring all kinds of singing hot dogs. Three “Fandango Movie Moments” feature three (0:57, 0:53, 0:56) “Brian the Minion on Pets” segments — surprisingly there is no play all feature — and are basically the Minions watching scenes from the movie pretending to be on Mystery Science Theater 3000. It’s not funny.

“GoPro: The Secret Life of Pets” (2:04) is nothing more than extended commercial for GoPro cameras. Sadly, there’s no footage of any actual pets which seems extremely odd considering they sent out GoPro cameras to film critics over the summer and have seen some hilarious footage. It could have been a nice touch, but I digress.

Three mini-movies prove how exhausted the Minions have become with the inclusion of Mower Minions (4:27) which played before the film theatrically and is just atrocious lowest common denominator bathroom humor. NormanTV (4:01) is the weirdest of the group as the resident hamster Norman (voiced by Renaud) carries a TV remote from one apartment to the next watching his “shows.” It’s odd because of its film noir angle as Norman saves a woman from being murdered by her husband. Weenie (4:05) is the most misleading of the three as I was hoping for a short featuring Buddy the dachshund. Instead, it winds up being the funniest as the singing hot dogs return for a rambunctious song that may be funnier than the whole movie. Finally, an extended trailer for Illumination Entertainment’s Sing (4:02) rounds things out.

The Secret Life of Pets may not be the year’s best animated feature, and it honestly never tries to be either. However, it is hands down Illumination’s best feature yet. Featuring one of the best 3D presentations of the year and a rollicking audio track, the film has its fans and they’re sure to flock to grab this off shelves. Some may call me biased due to having my own two wieners — and my wife owns just about every Buddy item created — but the film is full of charm and big laughs and has plenty to offer viewers both young and old. And even more for anyone lucky enough to have a fur baby or two to come home to every day.

Photos courtesy Universal Pictures

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