Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Secret Life of Pets 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Review

Reviewed by Jami Ferguson
In their fifth fully animated feature-film collaboration, Illumination Entertainment and Universal Pictures present The Secret Life of Pets, a comedy about the lives our pets lead when we leave for work or school. Max, voiced by Louis C.K., is a loyal terrier living a perfectly happy existence until his owner, Katie (Ellie Kemper) brings home Duke (Eric Stonestreet) a big, boisterous mutt she finds at the shelter. When Max and his unruly new “roommate” slip away from their dog-walker, they find themselves lost in the urban jungle of New York City. In an attempt to stay ahead of animal control and a rebel band of abandoned pets led by an unhinged bunny named Snowball (Kevin Hart), they put aside their differences to survive the epic journey back home.
Film (4 out of 5 stars)
Max (voiced by Louis C.K.) is a happy dog with a good life. He lives with his owner Katie (voiced by Ellie Kemper) and he anxiously waits for her return every day after work. Max doesn’t understand why Katie leaves him every day but he has plenty of friends to talk to. Nearby animals are also left home alone each day. An upscale neighbor poodle likes to crank up the music when his owner leaves. A bird turns on the television and fan, pretending to fly through the open space he’ll never find in the big city. Some animals destroy their homes in search of food, or out of boredom. Max is a good boy, overall. His world is turned upside down when Katie brings home another dog named Duke (voiced by Eric Stonestreet). Duke is a different breed than Max, and is significantly larger. Even if Katie brought home an identical dog, Max would be unwilling to share her love and attention.

One day, while Max and Duke are out for a walk, Max tries to lose his new roommate. In an alley, they meet a gang of tweaker cats led by the Sphynx Ozone (voiced by Steve Coogan). The encounter leaves the dogs collarless and they soon find themselves in an animal control vehicle. There, they are helped by an angry rabbit named Snowball (voiced by Kevin Hart). They soon learn that Snowball and his crew of “flushed pets” want revenge on the humans. Max and Duke don’t want to be a part of Snowball’s cause, and in fact, they like humans. They can’t let Snowball know that they are domesticated animals with an owner they love. Together, they must find their way home to Katie where their only problems are related to sharing an apartment.

The Secret Life of Pets is a cute and fun film that children are sure to enjoy. I did not join my 8 year old, roaring with laughter. As an adult, the plot and the jokes are pretty predictable. As a kid, it is apparently hilarious. I did find humor in the film, even if I didn’t laugh out loud. The characters are all very cute animals and they play on stereotypes of their kind or breed. With many periphery characters, Max, Duke and the Flushed Pet Gang are the center of the action. I was surprised how the film could be so dark and so light at the same time. 

The Secret Life of Pets joins the Toy Story Franchise, Finding Nemo, Finding Dory, and The Lego Movie on the list of children’s movies that I would watch even if I didn’t have a child. Besides being funny, it is also sweet and poignant at times, especially when you learn about Duke’s history. If you’ve hated every animated film you’ve ever seen, nothing about this film will change your mind. Hopefully, you can turn off your adult brain for a while and enjoy some animal action as Max and Duke journey home.
Video (5 out of 5 stars ) 
This is one of the occasions where the Blu-ray looks pretty close to perfect. With the upscale to 4K, there is little improvement to be had. The animal fur and feathers, when wet and dry, looks authentic and has appropriate movement. In some close-ups you can see an improvement in the fur department. For both versions, the color palette is rich and bold. By all means, watch the UHD for a bit more clarity and color but don’t feel slighted in the least if all you’ve got is the Blu-ray.
Audio (4 1/2 out of 5 stars) 
The Secret Life of Pets' Dolby Atmos soundtrack is well balanced and well executed. Clarity in music and dialogue is excellent. Action sequences are energetic and lively. All sound elements are given appropriate priority and weight. The film sounds great when you put all speakers to use, including overheads. 
Extras (4 out of 5 stars)
The Secret Life of Pets contains a healthy list of short supplemental features on the Blu-ray. The UHD has no extras. The following bonus features are included on the Blu-ray disc:

  • The Humans That Brought You Pets - Interviews with the Directors, Producers and Writers that brought the film to life.
  • Animals Can Talk: Meet The Actors – Very brief discussions with the cast members with funny moments from their recording sessions.
  • All About the Pets – Animal Trainer Molly O’Neill joins actors Kevin Hart and Eric Stonestreet for some time with the animals.
  • Hairstylist to the Dogs – Stylist Jess Rona and Actor Eric Stonestreet talk grooming.
  • How to Make an Animated Film – A four minute look at creating an animated film.
  • Anatomy of a Scene – A look at what goes into making a specific scene.
  • The Best of Snowball – Just over one minute devoted to the film’s nemesis.
  • Lyric Video – “Lovely Day” with lyrics over an animated background.
  • Hot Dog Sing Along – A sing a long in the land of hot dogs.
  • Fandango Brian the Minion on Pets – The minions watch the movie in 3 parts.
  • Go Pro The Secret Life of Pets – Clips from the movie form an ad for go pro.
  • Trailer – Sing trailer
  • Mini Movies – Three mini movies with making of featurette:
    • Norman TV
    • Weenie
    • Mower Minions
  • The Making of the Mini Movies
Summary (4 1/2 out of 5 stars)
The Secret Life of Pets is hilarious if you are a kid. It is pretty cute for the adults as well. While the 4K UHD version isn’t a huge improvement over Blu-ray they both offer an excellent audio and video presentation. There is a healthy list of extras, many of which are geared toward the younger audience. The film contains an entertaining cast of voice actors and was just as enjoyable at home during repeated viewings as it was in the theater. Recommended for purchase and gifting.

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