Tag Archives: Albert Brooks

“The Secret Life of Pets”



Anyone who is fortunate enough to share their life with a companion animal will undoubtedly get a kick out of the latest Illumination animated effort, “The Secret Life of Pets.” The film soars when it focuses on animals interacting with their human guardians, with the canine and feline characters acting like real pets do (if my cats could talk, I’m sure they’d converse in  similar dialogue as portrayed onscreen). The first part of the movie is incredibly perceptive and clever, as is the last 10 minutes because it zeroes in on these very relationships (the opening and closing scenes of the movie are touching and have lots of heart). The problem comes in the middle when the story stops being about ‘pets being pets.’ Sadly, the majority of the film lags when it ventures into the dreaded animated movie territory of sheer stupidity.

Loveable human Katie (Ellie Kemper) and her pup Max (Louis C.K.) are the best of friends. Max has several animal buddies that live in the same New York City high rise, including dogs, cats, birds and guinea pigs that stop by for daily visits. When Katie brings home Duke (Eric Stonestreet) from the animal shelter, Max devises a plan to get rid of him. Problem is, the two dogs find themselves lost in the big city and Max’s would-be girlfriend Gidget (Jenny Slate) takes it upon herself to recruit other pets — including the elderly paralyzed basset hound Pops (Dana Carvey) and lonely falcon Tiberius (Albert Brooks) — to bring Max home. Along the way they find themselves at odds with the anarchist gang of “flushed pets,” a group of outspoken, anti-human animals led by former magician’s bunny Snowball (Kevin Hart).

The voice acting runs the gamut from phenomenally good (Slate) to wince inducing (Hart). Slate is perfectly cast as Gidget, a poufy white spoiled little dog who eventually saves the day. She proves herself tenfold as a legitimate voiceover actor, and I hope to see her get more work in animation in the future. There’s no denying that Hart is a super likeable actor, but his portrayal of Snowball the bunny is nothing more than repeated, strained yelling. His overall performance felt so labored and unnatural that listening to him onscreen actually made me uncomfortable. I will not hesitate to nominate Hart for a Razzie award for worst actor of the year because his voice work is that bad.

In the ‘oh no, not again’ category, there’s plenty of dopey, brainless scenarios crammed in with a feeling that their sole existence is to appease young kids. We get yet another ridiculous animal driving a car stunt that we had to endure in this summer’s nearly insufferable “Finding Dory.” In fact, in “The Secret Life of Pets” we get not only a rabbit driving a van but also a lizard driving a bus and a pig driving a taxi.

The absurdity isn’t the only problem: it’s the repetition. The filmmakers must’ve run out of good ideas and instead of moving the story forward, the audience gets the same monotony over and over and over again. I don’t require my animated films to be completely based in reality (there’s a particularly amusing Busby Berkeley inspired musical sequence in a sausage factory), but I do expect more originality than is delivered in this movie. The story at times takes a cynical approach in several places and some of the themes may be too much for sensitive kids (but the film provides a great starting point for a learning opportunity about pets and how animals shouldn’t be viewed as disposable).

At least the animation is commendable, nice and colorful with lively, fully realized backgrounds. It’s visually interesting enough for adults and fans of the genre but it’s also vibrant and bustling enough to keep the kids interested. There’s a lovely original score with a lighthearted, almost vintage sound. For me, the original music in this film is one of the standout elements.

Overall I feel like this film takes a great idea and almost completely wastes the opportunity. This dull, unremarkable action caper is mostly moronic, but the imaginative peek behind the door at an animal’s life when the humans are away is what’s pure gold. I really wish the film had focused on that component. “The Secret Life of Pets” is fine, but isn’t destined for greatness. I’m throwing it a bone with a 3 star rating.

Matt was unavailable for review.


“Finding Dory”



The main question on my mind after the final credits rolled for “Finding Dory” was ‘does Pixar even care anymore?’ It seems like the answer is a resounding ‘no.’ The studio continues its streak of mediocrity in their latest not-so-great animated feature, a sad rehash of 2003’s far better “Finding Nemo.”

This time it’s the lovable blue Dory (Ellen Degeneres) who is searching for her long lost family. Dory suffers from short term memory loss, a cute gimmick until the parameters of her condition change on a whim: she can’t remember what she was talking about five seconds earlier yet conveniently remembers important details from years ago when it’s vital to the plot. Both Marlin (the always fantastic Albert Brooks) and Nemo (now cutesy-voiced by Hayden Rolence) are back as Dory’s sidekicks, and there are multiple unnecessary, obligatory cameos from Crush (Andrew Stanton) and Mr. Ray (Bob Peterson).

As with many animated films lately, the voice talent is borderline horrible. These actors originated the roles and created the sound of the characters, but there is something not quite right about their performances here, especially from Degeneres. She managed to make Dory devoid of any empathy or likeability, both characteristics that oozed from her performance in the original “Finding Nemo.” Ditto for the absolutely dreadful vocal performances from Ed O’Neill as Hank the octopus and Ty Burrell as Bailey the beluga whale. I’m cringing as I’m writing this when I think of how simply lousy they were.

Speaking of Bailey the beluga whale, that entire character was pretty awful. Beluga whales are undeniably awesome but the idea that one was using his sonar capabilities to track fish in pipes or a truck on a major highway (being driven by an octopus) was so ridiculously stupid that it nearly single-handedly ruined the entire movie for me. Parents, use this film as an educational opportunity to teach your kids about marine life so that they don’t grow into moronic adults.

The film is also plagued by ugly, uninviting animation. The lovely short preceding the film, “Piper,” is rich and gorgeous and lush and full of vibrancy. With “Dory,” all we get is murky, dreary animation with an astonishing lack of detail. Really, why did this movie have to look so brown and gray and washed out? I don’t understand how anyone would enjoy the look and feel of this movie.

I adore animated films, I truly do. In fact, animation is of my favorite genres ever. I hate having to consistently dish out low star ratings to the Disney / Pixar mouse powerhouse but their winning formula obviously has grown old and stale. I had high hopes for this movie, but a stinker is a stinker and there’s no getting around that.


While it’s not a timeless classic on the level of “Finding Nemo,” “Finding Dory” is an enjoyable enough piece of entertainment that’s worth watching.

Dory (voiced by Ellen DeGeneres), she of the short-term memory loss, has come to the realization that early in life, she lost her parents. As she continues to remember bits and pieces of what happened to her when she was a young fish, she goes in search of her family, aided by Nemo (Hayden Rolence) and Marlin (Albert Brooks). Her adventures take her to the place where she was born, where she meets friends both new, like Hank (Ed O’Neill) and old, like Destiny (Kaitlin Olson).

Like most of the more watchable Disney/Pixar movies, “Finding Dory” doesn’t fall into the modern-day trap of animated movies by trying too hard to please the parents by including far too many “adult” jokes while also trying to amuse kids by using too much modern vernacular. The animation is good, as one expects from a Pixar film. The voice talent is strong, where the voices mostly match the characters and doesn’t rely overly much on stunt casting (using popular A-list actors) to round out the cast.

The story is also pretty good. While some of the plot points started to verge on the ridiculous — with animals doing things that were decidedly NOT authentic to the species — I didn’t get bored, and I didn’t get annoyed. For an animated film, this is high praise from me. I cared about Dory, Hank, Marlin, Nemo, and the others, and I felt invested in their story. This also seemed to be true for the rest of the audience that was in my screening: while some younger kids got a bit restless, most of them were well-behaved enough and seemed invested enough to care about what was happening.

If you’re expecting a Pixar masterpiece like “Wall-E” or “Toy Story 2,” you’ll be disappointed in “Finding Dory.” But, on the other hand, if you are hoping for a movie that you can enjoy along with your well-behaved children that liked “Finding Nemo,” I think you’ll be pleased.