Friday, December 9, 2016

Moana (2016)

It's almost customary, tedious, and droning at this point to rave about Disney's unerring coupling of their short and feature films, as it is basically a given. However, I first and foremost must uphold my personal integrity and morale of insisting to give credit where credit is due. That said, Inner Workings, the short film in question, is Disney's straightforward answer to Inside Out. It manages to be as hilarious and insightful as that movie. It constructs a new path while treading in the same territory, much like the film that follows: Moana.

The film takes place on the Polynesian island, Motonui. The Polynesian islands came to be after the goddess, Te Fiti, emerged, using her heart, presented in the form of a stone, to create life. However, demigod Maui stole the heart, which provoked a confrontation with lava demon, Te Ka, and thus the heart became lost...until Moana, the daughter of the island's head chief, becomes the chosen one to receive the heart, return it, restore security to the island. She meets up with demigod Maui to assist her in her journey.

Something that impressed me tremendously while watching the film was its rhythm. While many Disney films glide through their stories more briskly, Moana takes more of a relaxed approach. It's leisurely, controlled, and contained, opting to add additional flesh to the story, while never coming across as ponderous. It's fastidious tonally, yet rich, effusive, and vigorous in execution. While the first third of the film has a healthy dose of build-up and development, it also unfortunately highlights certain derivative elements of the story. Not only could you play a drinking game out of how many instances Moana's father says, "We do not go beyond the reef," but you could play a drinking game of how many other movies have used this trope, specifically how many times EACH movie uses a similar line of dialogue.

However, the film gains full force when Maui and Moana meet. Not only are Moana and Maui two of the most addictive, lovable characters in the Disney canon, but their alchemy and wily call-and-response interactions birth one of the greatest duos in cartoon history.  Most duos built on banter and dichotomy are cut-and-dry, stark, and centered on two extremes. There are certainly remnants of this here, but the approach in Moana is unique and novel. Maui, on the surface, is a typical self-absorbed, virile, chauvinist caricature, but he is considerably more fragile, prone to leave his tics and vices exposed for Moana to take advantage of. Moana is, as expected, the inexperienced yet determined young girl, ready to take charge. Even though Maui is stronger, Moana does not allow him to degrade her easily. Usually, her archetype has to labor for a give-and-take against a character like Maui. However, she is not presented as simply valiant, but moreso headstrong and quick-witted. Instead of straining to get her way, she possesses a wit that targets Maui's internal weaknesses and naked impulses. 

This dynamic, along with their refreshing characterizations, leads to some of the most riotous, effervescent, and hilarious comedy Disney has ever produced. It also helps that they are voiced brilliantly by Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and Auli'i Cravalho. Johnson continues his hot streak of characters seemingly meant to counter, subvert, and innocuously decry his notorious tough-guy image. Additionally, he gets to demonstrate some surprisingly above-adequate singing abilities. Cravalho as Moana exhibits massive quantities of personality, exultation, attitude, and warm innocence, which, while it makes for a stupendous performance, could either make or break her, given the magnitude of her role juxtaposed with her age.

Above all else, I sat there, absolutely transfixed with the animation. if judging Disney films solely on their animation quality, this ranks in the top two of all time. What a luscious, intoxicating, sublime film this is to merely experience. When we aren't being introduced to the poppy, vibrant creatures, we are immersed in a world treated with more gravity and poetry than I have viewed in a while, displayed in. glorious 3-D. While the majority number of character designs are all normally amiable, Moana is the definitive standout, designed beautifully with her inviting smile, radiant skin, and immaculate doe eyes. This film also provides us with the most expressive tattoos and water I have ever witnessed in an animated film; an accolade I never thought I would ultilize.

As much as I adore this film, it is one of my most flawed favorite films ever. As I stated earlier, there are many cliched moments, so not every emotional moment resonates to their fullest extent. Also...*sigh*...the music. Now, let me clarify. I like every song in the film. Musically, they complement the atmosphere and climate perfectly and the imagery that accompanies the songs is grand and sumptuous. But lyrically...look, Mr. Miranda, I know this is your first Disney effort and you collaborated with two other gentlemen (Mark Mancina and Opetaia Foa'i). You did a good job, but you still have a long way to go.

Regardless, this is one of the most magnificent, wondrous, beautiful, and funniest animated films I have ever seen with one of the strongest protagonists in Disney history; a character that little girls not merely can look up to, but should look up to. It's odd in the way Disney has been a beacon of hope, a savior in an awful, awful year. This film and Zootopia almost act as the bookends for 2016. Zootopia showed the ills of discrimination and xenophobia, which we will now have to confront for four years. Moana holds up a mirror and reflects the image of a proud, competent woman taking charge and gaining the proper approval of her peers, which now plays as both an unfortunate fantasy and a symbol of determination. Finding Dory, in the middle of the year, showed us how to maintain optimism and cheer when confronted with turbulence and seemingly impossible hardships. How morbidly prescient yet totally gracious. Through all this upheaval, Disney was with us. Hell, that whistling mouse would make a better leader than Chump.

RATING: Four out of four stars! 

Friday, October 21, 2016

Kevin Hart: What Now? (2016)

In observing the intro to Kevin Hart's newest stand-up comedy film, What Now?, I realized how much it is an indication of the progression of his notoriety and demand. I was brought back nostalgically to his first major stand-up special, I'm a Grown Little Man, which opens on a blackened, featureless animated body with a flimsy, copy-and-paste image of Kevin Hart's smiley face, growing through farcical mayhem for...mmmm....25 seconds maximum. 

The intro to this film also involves comically roughshod special effects and displays Kevin Hart in a car, a la James Bond, speeding through with ironic purpose and tongue-in-cheek dignity, supported by a warm palette of black and yellow (shut up, Wiz Khalifa). This espionage milieu continues for ten minutes prior to the actual special. This act, complete with Ed Helms, Don Cheadle, and Halle Berry, is, to my surprise, rollickingly hilarious; a boisterous, impeccably delivered, and proficiently timed. Even more surprising, it actually upstages the actual special. It doesn't demean or demolish it, but the stand-up surprisingly pales in comparison. I guess that's the tragic implication of sharing your title with a leaden, failed Rihanna single.

This special is shot at Lincoln Financial Field in front of a sold-out crowd, as Hart goes into experiences with his fiancee, his children, his father, Starbuck's, women who don't believe shit, etc. Here's the thing. In watching this film, I found myself laughing/smirking about 65% of the special (laughing out loud probably 32%) and the remainder of my experience was just me staring with a doe-eyed, "Please, sir, may I have some more?" aura spritzing from my consciousness.

Kevin Hart's comedic appeal from the start centered around his minimal material and his monstrous personality. He has a very finite comedic spectrum, running the gamut from "women are..." to "All right, all right, all RIIIIIGHT," interspersed with Silly Putty expressions and guttural screeches and yells. He's practically the black equivalent to Jim Carrey. And at the beginning of his career, it was more infectious that the swine flu. Unfortunately, as I punctuated in my Central Intelligence review, Kevin Hart, since Let Me Explain, is in a completely different phase of existence now. 

His formula and format has proven to be tried and true and, after scoring approximately three films a year, he seems to be inadvertently resting on his laurels, not out of sheer indolence or complacency, but because he genuinely is enjoying himself and is in a secure comfort zone where he doesn't have to go beyond his limits. While life oozes out of him in his demeanor, he's starting to forgo tangible jokes and situations, in exchange for merely adequate remnants of levity. I'd say it's comparable to a candy bar: satisfying, but not substantial. I'm not sure when, even if, he will suffer from a massive backlash, but what I do know is that his almost pathetic confidence in his repetitiveness and his painful awareness of his perennial label in the comedic world is beginning to turn his material thin. Very thin.

However, while he's technically approaching a wall head-on and with full force, he still has his full-blooded charisma that is still intriguing and transfixing enough that it feels rewarding at the close of each bit. He has that spark in his eye, that unremitting gaiety, that effervescent earnestness that clinches the deal, regardless whether or not the product is top-notch. Even when I was desperate for Hart to get to the punchline, I was still enjoying him and myself. His unalloyed sincerity comes through totally and definitively in a closing statement, as he departs the stage.

I must admit there were some marginal red flags when I heard he was releasing a comedy special in theaters after his last one showcased his selling-out at Madison Square Garden. I wondered how he was going to top that. To put it frankly, he doesn't. While it ranks as the weakest of his specials, his sparse sensibilities still produce escapism that proves to be simple, yet detectable. It's not suffocatingly funny, but...funny enough. Not a very buoyant, impassioned endorsement, but one, nonetheless.

RATING: Three out of four stars

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Don't Breathe (2016)

I am cognizant that the following statement I'm prepare to utter can be swiftly applied to any film genre, but it seems that the horror genre is, fittingly, "doomed" to easily contract periods of iteration and stagnation, at least in the Hollywood mainstream scene. This sounds odd, seeing how complex and varied the emotion of fear is. Fear can exist on a psychological, metaphysical, or existential level. It can be irrational or can simmer in our most repressed, vulnerable tendencies or states of being. It can be expressed through phantasmic beings that exploit our most personally unfathomable predicaments or represent the worst in us. Despite all this, it seems as if the predominate stages of the Hollywood horror genre run the gamut from mystical monsters that are now ubiquitous and kitschy (to the extent that they are submitted to self-parody), to torture porn or slasher films meant to elicit a tawdry shock or scream, and to supernatural horror, which currently can be summarized as "uncertain" certainties terrorizing or possessing members of white suburbia, all the while never missing a cue for a jump scare.

Currently, while horror will never be "dead" (accidental, I swear), it seems that we are in the most self-content, creatively sterile period of horror overall, despite sparks of sporadic brilliance. It seems fitting that Paranormal Activity drew mass hysteria right before the conclusion of the Saw franchise. While the found-footage angle led to greater possibilities with films such as, The Visit or Unfriended, the supernatural portion proved tried, true, and infuriatingly warmed over. So, does Don't Breathe represent a shift in a different route for Hollywood? Until they decide to stop milking The Conjuring and Annabelle series, hell no. Is it one of the most invigorating, creatively enlightened, and effective modern horror films? Hell yes.

The film centers around three teenagers in Detroit, Rocky, Alex, and Money. Their primary expertise is robbing the houses protected under Alex's father's security system and selling the valuable items they obtained, in the hopes of escaping the impoverished confines of Detroit and escaping to California. Their newest heist targets the house of a Army veteran, who has obtained a $300K settlement after a family tragedy. The gentleman named Norman is blind, which unfazes them, until Money gets shot and killed by Norman during the heist. It soon turns into a cat-and-mouse game, as Rocky and Alex struggle to maintain their secrecy and dodge the sonically aware, emotionally charged hands of Norman, the blind man.

This film is the definition of a white-knuckle express. The taut, claustrophobic, fear-laden atmosphere of the house give it an insidious identity, yet the complexities of it give it a sort of personality. It seems at every turn, there's a new level that has been unexplored, which would be the more ideal scenario for our protagonists. The lighting is perfectly sparse, resulting in a night vision chase scene, which is one of the most exhilarating, ingenious moments I've witnessed in a horror film.

The nature of the film is minimalist, relying on suspense and dread through the use of sound, in the same vein as films such as, The Blair Witch Project, and Signs. Creaking floors, buzzing phones, crackling windows, breathing, etc. create a foreboding aura not in straightforward fear per se, but of frightening implications. Any sound could be the last. One brilliant move by director Fede Alvarez is his coordination of sounds with Roque Banos' score. Certain sounds increase in volume, along with the score. It's nuances like these that create a elevated level of psychological tension, as opposed to physical, visual fears. If it wasn't for the content of this film, I believe wholeheartedly that this film would be a shoe-in for an Oscar nomination for sound editing.

In a perfect world, Stephen Lang would also be nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal as Norman, the blind man. Only an actor of veteran status, as opposed to celebrity status, could deliver such an emotionally variegated, subtly astute, and maturely menacing performance in a horror film. It may not be Hannibal Lecter status, but it's a damn impressive acting job, minus a few admittedly overwrought moments. However, Dylan Minnette and Daniel Zovatto deliver sincere work as Alex and Money, respectively, and Jane Levy, as Rocky, could easily be a bankable scream queen, if she stays on the right track. It helps that all the actors have been given characters substantially developed, which, for a horror film, is practically an anomaly. It's not innovative work, but screenwriters Rodo Sayagues and (*gasp*) Fede Alvarez deliver a perfect balance of empathy and reality. In both cases, they are identifiable, in spite of their transgressions.

However, with all of the brilliance in this film, I struggle with the ending. I personally would've preferred the removal of the last three minutes, offering a moral elusiveness and complexity that would've been a sly, more cunning way to complement the grimy, dour tone of everything preceding it. Instead, we get a coda that is too satisfactory, too upbeat, and too inconsequential. Every defense I have mustered in my mind for the ending is either excessively lenient, morally incongruous or muddled, conceptually cliched, or, in any allegorical argument, patronizing and simplistic.

Despite this, I consider this film a fluke, in all of the best ways. Horror films have had a history of employing sociopolitical critiques or social commentaries within the ghostly and grisly, from Invasion of the Body Snatchers, to Dawn of the Dead, to even Cabin in the Woods. I feel that this film has subliminally tapped into the sociopolitical zeitgeist of now. So what's the allegory? Is it tapping into the All Lives Matter conceit, in displaying victimized white people attacking victimized white people? Is it tapping into the Black Lives Matter conceit, in the sense that impoverished individuals, using tools legal or illegal to survive, are pitted against a financially well-off white man, who is blind, literally and figuratively, to his own perspectives that the experiences and feelings of the suffering are not taken into account? The failings of our justice system? Inadequate treatment of our veterans? Reproductive rights (That last one has to be seen to understand, but...probably not)? I guess it's open to interpretation. What I am certain of is that the film is innately ironic. Think about it. A film entitled Don't Breathe is a breath of fresh air for horror films. *rimshot*

 RATING: Three-and-a-half stars out of four

Friday, July 29, 2016

Star Trek Beyond (2016)

As I prepared myself in the Edwards Cinemas in Ontario Mills, the screen went black for approximately 30-45 seconds before the intro of the theater and its subsequent trailers. "It's still better than Into Darkness," a random fellow behind me assuredly preached. This comment reinforced my view of the current state of affairs for J.J. Abrams: he is officially a Hollywood filmmaker. Now, this may seem like a redundant, blatant observation, but I do have a point with this. Through most of his career, his primary forte was television, merely producing films to hand over to the more experienced directors, but over the past few years, his demand as a director has been triumphantly bestowed unto him, along with the all the bullshit he gets to experience.

In particular, the excessively technical, pretentiously analytical diatribes he has had to unfortunately confront. While his prior dual directional efforts (Star Trek: Into Darkness and Star Wars: The Force Awakens) succeeded critically (86 and 92% respectively on Rotten Tomatoes) and financially, Into Darkness received a sudden, furious backlash involving sexism, whitewashing, and recycling a previous Star Trek film to exploit the nostalgia of Trekkies, and Force Awakens, while not as reviled, still has a growing, militant collective of detractors, claiming creative cloning of the original Star Wars film. While I would rather not summarize all backlashes simplistically and while I do understand certain perspectives, I can't say I personally agree with these criticisms.

I bring up all of this as a means of setting context. There does seem to be a demographic, a certain audience looking to see the demise of Abrams. So, when he handed the reigns to the Star Trek trilogy to director Justin Lin, it could have easily played to Abrams' downfall, seeing how Lin's notoriety stems from the Fast and the Furious films, which, let's be honest, aren't exactly revered because of thematic innovation or emotional integrity. However, watching this film, it's surprising that he didn't direct Furious 7, because the solemnity and sensitivity of how Leonard Nimoy's passing is incorporated in this film is more emotionally resonant than the Paul Walker tributes over the past year-and-a-half. It establishes his imprint on the franchise: one that doesn't elevate, but continues its, in my opinion, entertaining streak.

The film begins three years into the five-year excursion of the starship Enterprise. Their mission being to travel to various planets, establishing friendly, diplomatic ties. While both Kirk and Spock are wrestling with the worth of their mission and aspiring for other goals, an alien, Kalara, sends the Enterprise on a rescue mission, claiming her ship is stranded on Altamid. It turns out she has ulterior motives, which leads to the Enterprise being under heavy attack by one commander Krall. While the crew escapes safely, albeit becoming stranded on Altamid in the process, the Enterprise is destroyed. However, Jaylah, a scavenger who escaped Krall's clutch, eventually reunites them in the USS Franklin, an early Starfleet vessel that disappeared years ago. After successfully repairing it to its state of glory, the Enterprise crew and Jaylah band together to take down Krall, who is conspiring an attack against the Federation, using the hazardous technology of an alien artifact, the Abronath.

The intriguing facet about the world of Altamid is that for such a full-bodied universe, its geographical display is surprisingly limited. It's beautiful aesthetically, but its underlying mood is one of desolation and claustrophobia. And honestly, that's the most precise approach and tone with this particular story. It isn't a convivial, simplistic journey on this planet. It's a mission of exigency, uncertainty, and mystery. The fact that a heavy emphasis is placed on the conditions of the starships renders them into full-fledged characters themselves. They are, in themselves, iconic staples of pop culture established for over four decades, but this film hones in on the whopping awe and larger-than-life majesty of them, preserving the tone of significance and dignity of the Star Trek universe that Abrams laboriously sought to capture in the first two films.

Outside of the committed veneration for its material, this film, in addition, more than delivers on the basics. The boisterous visuals exhibit a pomp uniquely its own. They are a tremendous fit to the intoxicating action sequences. Every one of them have not a wasted minute and are beautifully rendered in IMAX 3D. Yes, I just realized that preceding IMAX with "beautiful" is redundant. The ambush of the Enterprise by Krall near the beginning of the film delivers an exhilaration, an intensity, and a rigorous, gripping rhythm on a level I haven't seen since, hell, the Battle of Normandy in the beginning of Saving Private Ryan. They deliver that same height of an unexpected, visual kick-start that impeccably places itself at the right point, to where the intro delivers exposition that isn't perfunctory, but it doesn't allow you to rest comfortably either. Oh, and there's also an action sequence with the most brilliant utilization of the Beastie Boys' "Sabotage" I've ever witnessed in a film. 

Additionally, writers Doug Jung and Simon Pegg imbue the film with a perfectly prescribed dose of comedy as well, never coming across as contrived or discordant in tone. Oh, and one of the jokes involves one of the most hilarious usages of Public Enemy's "Fight the Power" that I have ever witnessed in a film. I don't know whether the song choices were of Pegg or musical demi-god Michael Giacchino, but they leave a deeper impact than the score does. If only Rihanna was that lucky, but I digress. In addition to Pegg's typical comedic sensibilities, I was surprised by the competence and heft of the dramatic moments. I already discussed the pitch-perfect incorporation of Ambassador Spock, but I also found myself invested with Kirk's plight, as well. While its coda is predictable, the motivation and pathos rooted in Kirk's initial sensibilities lend his character a taciturn humility. Krall, while menacingly imagined, is rather thinly written with melodramatic speeches about betrayal, strength, and other adjectives presumably added in for purposes of the trailer, but his overall arc and revelations about Krall in the final third transform a vaguely empty villain into a multi-layered antagonist with hopeless humanity.

The actors also step up their abilities, as well. Chris Pine effortlessly immerses himself back in his role as Captain Kirk with a charismatic valiance and a controlled, quiet brood. Zachary Quinto as Spock delivers more shrewd nuances and beats that emits a Spock struggling between his stoic, unaffected penchant for logic and the almost insultingly rudimentary quality of emotion. The supporting cast, as well, all put in their best efforts to solidify their place in the cast. Karl Urban's frantic temperament as Dr. McCoy makes a marvelous comic foil against every character. The late Anton Yelchin's performance as Chekov feels eerily prescient, submerging into his character with every ioda of his heart, as if he knew it was his swan song. Cho and Saldana are serviceable, despite being massively underused. Idris Elba as Krall shows a proficient flexibility, being able to glide between being campy and humane.

In ranking the films, I feel that the process of ranking is irrelevant, as all fire on all possible cylinders to convey each of their distinctly amiable intentions. The first film was excellent in establishing the identity and image of this new franchise, as well as pleasing itself and us as a popcorn film experience. The second film, in my personal opinion, focused more on weaving thorough, complete emotional tapestries. This film takes the traits of the first two and meshes it with an ambitious, meticulously crafted story with thought and soul. It delivers on the nostalgia and vigor that Trekkies hope to be presented with. Now, off I go to woefully procrastinate watching the original Star Trek shows. I mean, the animated one counts, right? Right...?

RATING: Three-and-a-half stars out of four

Sunday, July 17, 2016

The Secret Life of Pets (2016)

Oh, how the wailing rants of wannabe critics amuse me! You know what I'm referring to. Those petulant, pedantic, crybaby, YouTube marauders who confuse volume and passion for validity and reason (A.K.A. the crowd that ignited an Internet typhoon over the new Ghostbusters film). As much as I lambasted actions of this nature in my Force Awakens review, I surprisingly consider the backlash behind The Secret Life of Pets even more inexplicable. This film is widely being considered a rip-off of Toy Story. Yes, specifically the first one. Before I reveal and dissect the fallacies of this criticism, let me start off with the most eloquent summation of my stance I can muster: Fuck off and sit on it!

Let's begin with the plot. The film begins with a dog, Max, who has lived nothing but a blissful existence since he was adopted as a puppy by a young woman, Kate. One day, Kate returns home from work with Duke, a new dog she has chosen to adopt. Unfortunately, the two dogs seem to clash, each struggling to exert their own power. After a skirmish between them at a park, they find themselves lost, stripped of their collars. While trying to return to their comfortable home, they find themselves entangled with a group of vengeful rebel animals, spearheaded by an aggressive, bloodthirsty (figuratively, of course. Kid's film!) rabbit. Additionally, they have support from Max's friends, who set out to search for him and Duke, while encountering a lonely hawk and a crippled Basset hound.

 OK, so let's get down to business! This film is not blatant creative robbery. While admittedly, the conceit of a protagonist, who possesses many friends who revere him highly, struggling to adjust to having to share his existence with someone who makes him question his own standing, leading to a scuffle that separates them from their natural state of living, forcing them to bond on a quest to return to their regular lives...*exhale*...does share some similarities with the first Toy Story film. What these detractors are failing to recollect is that many crucial elements from that film (i.e. a sadistic antagonist who reconfigures his subjects, the friends staying behind, waiting patiently for the return of our two feuding heroes, the mere fact of the new addition being more popular and respected than the original) have no place in this film.

The infuriating facet of the controversy is that these nitpicky, provoking critics can't even distinguish the right film. Aspects from this film (i.e. the friends on a journey to rescue their friends, rejects warning homegrown, content characters about domestic life, an instance of a character being tragically parted from his original owner, the mere fact that all of this happens with their owners being none the wiser) are aspects that can be Toy Story 2! Even if their rip-off theory was sound and sensible, they focused on the wrong target. This must be the most incompetent quasi-mass hysteria I have ever witnessed against a movie.

Besides, it seems as if these nostalgia guardians fail to realize that virtually every film has remnants of other films. Why don't we penalize Precious because of its similarities to The Color Purple while we're at it? Hell, the basic conceit of having to compete for respect with a new addition in their life can be seen in several other films (Stuart Little and Garfield: The Movie instantly come to mind). Do you even have any awareness of The Seven Basic Plots? Polti's Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations? Tobias' 20 Master Plots? A simple two-minute Google session might ease the pain for you. If there is any overriding pain, mind you (refer to my statement about a quasi-mass hysteria). I understand repetition and banality in cinema and that there is a shred of predictability in almost every film ever constructed, but there's one key ingredient that this film happens to have, which assists in helping any film overcome the death grip of existing platitudes: life.

One of this film's strengths is its ability to craft vibrant, particular personalities for its characters and fuse them impeccably with their voice actors. While Max's characterization can occasionally be somewhat thin, I was impressed by his oft wry sensibilities, abandoning the sort-of simplistic vulnerability that usually limits this type of protagonist, perfectly complimenting Louis C.K.'s dry, quick-witted style. Eric Stonestreet's Duke is actually much more vulnerable, actually possessing an authentic motivation to compete and/or overshadow Max and Stonestreet exudes the precise level of warmth and sincerity needed for the role. 

The chilled-out Buddy and hyperactive Mel totally correlate with their respective voice actors (Hannibal Burress and Bobby Moynihan) and Jenny Slate, in the midst of her increasing security and aplomb as an actress, immerses herself in the excessive good nature and innocent courage of Gidget. Tiberus, the hawk, is gruff, but has a hint of hopeless disaffection that aligns quite well with his voice actor, Albert Brooks, and Dana Carvey's amiability, with a surprising touch of acerbity, is put to fine use as the elderly Basset hound, Pops.

The two standouts, in my eyes, are Chloe and Snowball. As a person who predominantly grew up with cats, Chloe's self-absorbed, cynical, albeit clumsy disposition is highly evocative and identifiable for me and Lake Bell, who always emits an aura of deadpan self-involvement, compliments it spectacularly. As for Snowball, he can be seen as a broad allegory for the Black Lives Matter movement, seeing how he is introduced in the same window of time when dogcatchers are referred to as the "po po," he demands his movement include individuals that will help, not hinder his cause, if you will, and he's voiced by an African-American actor (Hi, Kevin Hart). Between this and Zootopia, it affirms my notion that modern cartoon media is trying to be more progressive, subversive, and transcendent. Anyhow, his ferocious energy and flexible emotional range is pitched so that neither Hart's voicework nor the writing (credit to returning players Brian Lynch, Cinco Paul, and Ken Daurio) are emphasized overtly over the other. What we have is a pitch-perfect example of what can happen when you understand how to properly transfer a comedian's temperament and integrity to cinema.

These bright, colorful characters paired with the spry, energetic writing make a concoction that produces big laughs. Furthermore, there is a high quantity of life present in the animation. The character designs relentlessly pleasant and unique and the 3D is highly impressive. 3D has made me swerve and duck before, but this time, there were several occasions, mostly involving snakes, that made me back up in my seat. The animation also manages to make a character out of its location, New York City. The lighting, the colors, the multitude of buildings, and minute details, such as the autumn leaves, all make for an anomaly: a summer film that actually has more than enough in common with a fall cinematic release. The lush, jazzy score also does a lot to personify the city, thanks to the masterful, yet shockingly underrated, Alexandre Desplat. While he has earned a number of honorable accolades, I believe his name should cause a reaction with as much instinctive viscera for Williams, Zimmer, Giacchino, Elfman, etc.

As much as I contribute nothing but praise, it's not at the apex of animation. The first third is a little slow to start out, offering humorous jokes, but not a very strong sense of footing or direction and some jokes that don't resonate strongly. In addition, the pacing and effort thrown into the humor unfortunately stunts any impact and momentum in instances where the filmmakers try to pull off drama. Any dramatic attempts usually are too predictable and awkwardly handled. Also, as enjoyable as the 3D is, there are times where it is not fully in-focus, thus displaying a blurriness at times that can become distracting. Regardless, this film has an adequate amount of personality and flair that should, in my opinion, automatically disqualify this film as being the ravenous rip-off that some misguided inciters are trying to make it out to be. Either way, Secret Life of Pets, you got a friend in me.

RATING: Three out of four stars