This animated feature from Illumination – the makers of the Despicable Me and Minions films – has been one of the bigger hits of the summer to date, and I suppose it serves as confirmation that the studio’s ouptut is as popular as that of its rivals Disney and Pixar, even if critical praise has been less forthcoming. While adults may find it a little tiring, I can totally see why this film has struck a chord with young children, with its plethora of cute, talking animals and the extended air of chaos that permeates proceedings. What we have here, essentially, is
Toy Pet Story, with two dogs (voiced by Louis C.K. and Eric Stonestreet) competing for their owner’s attention in a New York apartment, before eventually getting lost in the city and having a protracted adventure while trying to make it home. Dozens more characters (a variety of different animals) are thrown at the screen in the hope that some of them stick, and actually there’s some decent voice work here from a few of the actors roped in for a day or two of line readings, such as Steve Coogan, Dana Carvey and Kevin Hart, but it’s all a bit messy as it veers from one group of animals making their way around the city to another, and more than a little repetitive, with only a brief flight of fancy in a sausage factory to break up the monotony. That’s unfortunate, because the opening ten minutes – in which we see pets getting up to no good at home while their owners are at work – is full of smart, observational comedy (even though the best jokes all appeared in the trailer). We have to wait until the last two minutes for writing of a comparable standard, which basically means that I’m a sentimental fool and I enjoyed all the material about pets loving their owners and their owners loving them back that bookends the constant running around. Anyway, usual caveats apply: kids seem to love it – the pint-sized weirdos – so I suppose you have to appreciate that the film is an unqualified commercial success, and there’s no denying its good nature, either. Also, I thought Idris Elba’s presence in animated films was now mandatory. What gives?
Directed by: Chris Renaud, Yarrow Cheney.
Written by: Brian Lynch, Cinco Paul, Ken Daurio.
Starring: Louis C.K, Eric Stonestreet, Kevin Hart, Jennie Slate, Ellie Kemper, Dana Carvey, Lake Bell, Steve Coogan, Bobby Moynihan, Albert Brooks.
Art direction: Colin Stimpson.
Editing: Ken Schretzmann.
Music: Alexandre Desplat.
Running Time: 90.