Movie Review: “The Secret Life of Pets”

Starring
Louis C.K., Eric Stonestreet, Kevin Hart, Ellie Kemper, Jenny Slate, Albert Brooks
Director
Chris Renaud & Yarrow Cheney

Illumination Entertainment showed such great promise with their debut film “Despicable Me.” It wasn’t quite Pixar-esque in terms of greatness, but the movie had its heart in the right place, delivered some quality laughs, and included great jokes for the adults that were also appropriate for kids (“Bank of Evil, Formerly Lehman Brothers.”) They’ve responded to the success of the first film by exploiting Gru’s minions like they were a limitless supply of programmable Olsen twins. The minions dominated “Despicable Me 2,” much to that movie’s detriment, and they finally got their own film, which to date is the worst film in Illumination’s history (yes, it made over $1 billion worldwide, but so did “Alice in Wonderland,” and that movie is a hot mess). Worse, they even appeared in costume form in “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising.” They’re like alien spores, hell-bent on consuming all life on Earth.

This brings us to Illumination’s latest film, “The Secret Life of Pets,” which does not take place in the minions’ universe, yet contains three references to them: the word ‘Illumination’ in the studio’s title card flickers so that only the letters spelling ‘minion’ are visible; a character dresses up as a minion for a party; and there is a short film starring the minions before the main feature (to be fair, that bit is somewhat amusing, and proves that the minions are funnier when administered in smaller doses). That might sum up Illumination’s problem better than anything: they care more about branding than they do about the quality of their films.

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Movie Review: “Finding Dory”

Starring
Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Ed O’Neill, Hayden Rolence, Kaitlin Olson, Ty Burrell, Idris Elba, Dominic West
Director
Andrew Stanton & Angus MacLane

Well, this is disturbing: Pixar, which for years was the most creative, most consistent studio in Hollywood (that includes live-action films and animation), has five films in various stages of production, and four of them are sequels. If you go back to 2010, Pixar has produced seven sequels, as opposed to four films based on new ideas. Three of those four new-idea films have been released. One of them (“Inside Out,” one of only a handful of reviews I’d like to rewrite after misinterpreting a key plot point) has already ascended to classic status. The other two were two of Pixar’s weakest efforts (“Brave” and “The Good Dinosaur”). The fourth one, “Coco,” is inspired by the Mexican holiday Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead), which is the exact setting for Fox’s 2014 film “The Book of Life.” Ahem.

The first of the five films in production is “Finding Dory,” the follow-up to 2003’s “Finding Nemo,” far and away Pixar’s most successful film until “Toy Story 3” made over $1 billion worldwide in 2010. Thirteen years is a long time to be away, and Pixar is clearly mindful of the gap, because the story structure is part sequel, part remake. Several jokes from the first film are rehashed, with diminishing returns from all but one (the sea lions). For the most part, the film plays it maddeningly safe, and then the third act arrives, at which point all hell breaks loose in the most glorious, adorable way possible. In addition, it appears they even threw in an homage to “Inception” for the adults.

After a cute but heartbreaking sequence involving a toddler Dory and her parents, then later lost tween and adult Dory trying to find her parents, the story eventually settles a year after the events of “Nemo,” where Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) has a sudden urge to, yep, find her parents (Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy). With a vague memory that she was raised off the coast of California, Dory, Marlin (Albert Brooks), and Nemo (Hayden Rolence) enlist the help of an old friend (no spoilers) to take them on the roughly 7,000-mile journey. Shortly upon arrival, Dory is snagged in a plastic six-pack ring and picked up by employees of the local marine institute, which treats marine life for release back into the ocean. Dory recalls living in one of the exhibits and convinces a standoffish mimic octopus named Hank (Ed O’Neill, in a bit of inspired casting) to help her. Meanwhile, Marlin and Nemo are concerned that without them, Dory will forget where she is and why she’s there, and embark on their own adventure to save their friend.

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