The Secret Life of Pets 2 is directed by Chris Renaud and stars the voices of Patton Oswalt, Kevin Hart, Eric Stonestreet, Jenny Slate, Tiffany Hadish, Lake Bell, Nick Kroll, Dana Carvey, Ellie Kemper, Hannibal Buress, Bobby Moynihan, and Harrison Ford.
I have, admittedly, a soft spot in my heart for Illumination's The Secret Life of Pets: a film advertised as a top secret, inside scoop of what pets do at home when their owners are away. Sure, the plot ended up being a total copycat of the first Toy Story, but at least the film had enough charming, humorous pet moments to show at least a commitment to making us appreciate why dogs, cats, birds, etc. are such beloved companions. I have no soft spots at all, however, for the 2019 sequel, The Secret Life of Pets 2, most certainly to be the second installment of what will one day be a Secret Life of Pets trilogy, because just about everything now comes in threes. The Secret Life of Pets 2 is about as "meh" of an animated film as you'll find this year, which is better than straight-up mediocrity, although given the standard that Illumination has set for itself with its animated features over the years, the range between mediocre and meh is rather small. What exactly is it then, that makes Secret Life of Pets 2 a "meh" film? The story? The characters? The comedy? It's really a bizarre mixture of everything, although if I were forced to choose one particular part, it would have to be the story.
The story takes place sometime after the events of the first film. Jack Russell terrier Max (Oswalt) and Newfoundland mix Duke's (Stonestreet) owner Katie (Kemper) meets a man named Chuck (Pete Holmes), marries him, and has a son named Liam (Henry Lynch). At first, Max is repulsed by Liam, but he quickly comes to love him, and later starts to be overprotective of him. The family then goes on a road trip out to the city, where Max has trouble adjusting to the new setting. Before they leave, Max assigns white Pomeranian Gidget (Slate) to watch over his favorite Busy Bee toy, but Gidget loses Busy Bee inside an apartment that is rampant with cats. While that's going on, former villain turned superhero bunny Snowball (Hart) teams up with a Shih Tzu named Daisy (Haddish) on a quest to rescue a White tiger cub named Hu from an abusive circus owner named Sergei (Kroll).
There are several frustrating things about this story: first and foremost, it's made up of three separate sub-stories that have almost nothing to do with each other, that is until the third act mashes all three together by force. Secondly, only one of these sub-stories has anything resembling stakes or consequences; the other two just sort of happen with no clear purpose. The Gidget sub-story kind of has stakes: if Gidget doesn't retrieve Max's Busy Bee toy, she will fail him as a friend and blow any hopes of one day being romantically involved with him. Too bad this little nugget is discarded entirely for the sake of the third's act final sequence on a train, thereby rendering the entire story line almost pointless to begin with. Third, it's impossible to guess which of these sub-stories is supposed to have greater priority over the other two. It has to be Max's story because he's the main character, right? It seems that way, at least up until the finale, which is centered around bringing closure to the Snowball-Daisy tiger rescue story line. It's confusing as all hell to figure out how this is all supposed to fit together, and with a mere 86 minute runtime, there's next to no time to figure anything out.
- It pains me when I have to really scrape and claw my way through a movie just to figure out some sort of high point to discuss, and The Secret Life of Pets 2 is absolutely one of those movies where finding something of true substance is a frustrating (and somewhat wasteful) use of my time. There is only one thing I can dig up: Harrison Ford in his first ever voice role as a Welsh Sheepdog named Rooster. If anything, Ford brings an "old guy who knows how everything works" kind of charisma to his role, and it's the only charm to be had from a cast that is basically sleep-walking their way through their performances. I suppose if there's anything else to speak nicely of, the animation is bright, detailed, and cheery, as seems to be the norm for an Illumination film. Solid animation is colorful and artistic, and Illumination is no exception to this.
- The Secret Life of Pets 2 is targeted primarily at children, which is kind of horrifying considering the contempt put on display by the film's story. Trying to juggle three semi-connected stories is one thing. It's another how unorganized the movie is with keeping them all in line, with the blame solely being placed at the feet of the film's ridiculously short attention span. It almost seems deliberate the way the film bounces from one sub-story to the other, and from one stupid joke to another. Illumination clearly believes children can't follow a concept for longer than 11 seconds, so why should the movie bother to do so? Max's storyline starts out as a metaphor for helicopter parents, only to then suddenly switch gears and turn into a life lesson on how the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. You see, it's not the fear for Liam that ends up being important to Max; what ends up being important is the fear he has for himself, because Illumination knows pushing the initial metaphor over the finish line would have taken extra thought and effort.
There's no consistency to any of this. The Secret Life of Pets 2 gets so wrapped up in what it can do at this very moment, that it's completely oblivious to the bridges it burns and the general disregard it shows for its target audience. Children are more than capable of watching colorful animated films full of complex themes that require your attention from start to finish to fully understand. Films like The Secret Life of Pets 2 lead us to think that Illumination doesn't share this same mindset. To them, children need to have something goofy thrown at them every ten seconds to stay engaged, and as long as parents are willing to throw their hard-earned dollars at these movies, why would they ever change?
I don't want to end this review sounding like I'm knocking films that just want to be goofy and have fun. There's nothing wrong with such a movie as long as the comedy is there, and the story is something at least halfway decent. The Secret Life of Pets 2 though, is not a good example to use, because it's an extremely "meh" film that teeters dangerously towards being a mediocre one. Harrison Ford is a bright spot in a talented yet uninspired cast, but aside from that and the generally high quality of the animation, there's hardly anything of substance The Secret Life of Pets 2 has to offer. A metaphor about helicopter parents? Nope. Hilarious jokes that transcend low-bar comedy like fart jokes or bathroom humor? Also nope. What we get instead is a discombobulated story with the attention span of a goldfish, potential payoffs that get scrapped altogether, and an animation studio that is basically telling the world, "we don't need kids to look up more than a few seconds from their devices in order for them to follow along." This is bad practice from an animation studio that thinks it's a lot smarter and more successful than it actually is, and if they keep churning out "meh" films like The Secret Life of Pets 2, well, I pray and hope that children and their parents will have the smarts to put their foot down and say no. Real life pets are more fun than the like of Max and Snowball anyway.
Recommend? No. While the movie is very short, it's rather unsatisfactory viewing.
Any man who says 'I am King' is no true king.
The Kid Who Would Be King is directed and written by Joe Cornish and stars Louis Ashborne Serkis, Tom Taylor, Rebecca Ferguson, and Patrick Stewart.
For some odd reason that I can't put my finger on, 21st century cinema has not been kind to the medieval legends of King Arthur. To my knowledge, only three major films have been released in American cinema over the past twenty some years that directly deal with the tales of King Arthur, the legendary sword Excalibur, and the Knights of the Round Table. The first being the 2004, Antonine Fuqua-directed King Arthur: a dreary and generic action flick. The second is 2017's King Arthur: Legend of the Sword: an immensely boring Guy Ritchie film that foolishly tries to set up a multi-film series without trying to be something special on its own. The third film is what I am dealing with here in this review: 20th Century Fox's The Kid Who Would Be King, something of a King Arthur film targeted at children. Make of that whatever you will. So when I say that the 21st century has been unkind to the tales of King Arthur, that's to say that all the films I just described above are rather unpleasant movie-watching experiences. King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is easily the worst of the trio, and The Kid Who Would Be King is considerably the best. That's not saying much though: to say that The Kid Who Would Be King is the best wide release film of the 21st century thus far that directly deals with the legends of King Arthur is like saying getting one wisdom tooth pulled is more enjoyable than getting three or four pulled. It's a less painful experience, but you're still going to hate having to go through it.
The trailers for The Kid Who Would Be King first dropped back in mid-to-late 2018, and, aside from the utter bewilderment of watching a bunch of English schoolchildren preparing to fight an enchantress and her magical army, when I saw that the movie was targeting a late January 2019 wide release, the cynic in me jumped out and already declared the film to be one of the worst new releases of the year. You can imagine my additional shock when I saw the critical acclaim that The Kid Who Would Be King was getting in the few weeks prior to its release. Now having finally seen the film months after its poor box office run, I take a fair amount of solace in sticking with my initial cynicism. The Kid Who Would Be King, while not flat-out dreadful, is an unsatisfactory take on the King Arthur lore, lacking the subtlety and charm that would make it worthwhile for children and adults alike.
The Kid Who Would Be King opens with narration on the infamous King Arthur and his quest to acquire Excalibur and gather his Knights of the Round Table. Arthur had succeeded in putting an end to the war that ravaged the medieval times, turning several of his enemies into friends. The only one who stood in Arthur's way was his half-sister, Morgana (Ferguson), an enchantress who wanted to take the power of Excalibur for herself and use it to rule the world. Arthur and his allies defeated Morgana and sealed her away, and she would not return until the world was divided and leaderless once again.
Fast forward to present day England, where the world is divided and leaderless once again. We meet the twelve-year old boy Alexander Elliot (Ashbourne Serkis). Elliot lives with his mother (Denise Gough), both of whom struggle with the absence of Elliot's father, who Alex hasn't seen since he was five years old. Alex also struggles with bullies at school. Two bullies in particular Alex finds himself up against are Lance (Taylor) and Kaye (Rhianna Dorris). One night, when Lance and Kaye chase after Alex, Alex retreats to a construction site, where he finds a sword positioned in a giant rock. Alex pulls the sword out of the rock and takes it with him. The next day at school, a teenage boy enrolls in Alex's classes, but this is no ordinary teenage boy: the boy is actually the ancient wizard Merlin (Taylor/Stewart), and he discovers that Alex was the one who pulled the sword from the rock. Merlin tells Alex the sword he pulled is the one and only Excalibur, and that he must stop Morgana from taking the sword and enslaving all of England. Thus begins an epic adventure for Alex and his friends: battling evil demons and learning how to live the famous Arthurian code of chivalry.
- The best things The Kid Who Would Be King has going for itself is its convincing special effects and its decent action scenes. Morgana's fiery demons are well-detailed and about as good of a CGI creation as you'll get in a PG-rated film. There's a scene where Alex and his friends are training in swordsmanship with the help of living, moving trees, and the CGI trees are composited quite well with the characters. The actors show us convincingly they know how to interact with whatever stand-in object was used for the trees behind the scenes, without any direct signs of visible confusion/uncertainty. The action, meanwhile, is primarily filmed in a clean wide-shot format: whenever Alex or someone is trying to run away or slash at an incoming demon, Joe Cornish usually has Alex and the demon in the frame together. Basically, every shot during an action sequence is detailed enough so that you can get a perfect awareness of where the characters are and how they are moving. It's more than enough to keep the film from ever becoming boring, and for that alone, I am thankful.
- I would have appreciated The Kid Who Would Be King a lot more if it wasn't as self-serious as it turns out to be, because the movie's clear attempts at comedy do not work at all. Just about every joke is either set up poorly or has a weak punch-line, and even worse, the movie doesn't seem to have any idea about how to balance its comedic moments with its dramatic ones, the latter of which heavily outweighing the former, and thus, throwing the movie's status as a comedy into question. Alex has a line fairly early on in which he tries to dismiss the ridiculous idea of him becoming king, citing that he is only twelve years old. This is the kind of self-awareness that I wanted to see more of from the film, because then the movie would make it clear that it's poking fun at its premise that, let's not kid ourselves, is pretty ridiculous to begin with. A bunch of English schoolchildren embracing the power of King Arthur and tasked with stopping a demon from taking over the world? I'm pretty sure a lot of those children would run in terror if they saw a bunch of fiery demons on horseback charging at them, rather than embracing danger like it was a day off from school. Not being boring is different from being fun and delightful.
- The Kid Who Would Be King's greatest crime, however, is its annoying and undesirable characters. Alex is supposed to become king, except the movie never gives us any valuable insight as to who exactly Alex is and why he would make a good king. Most of the time, Alex is either moping about how much he misses his father or giving a pessimistic outlook on him becoming king, like he's a modern day Jon Snow (the brief Game of Thrones mention put into the movie is not funny, by the way). There's just next to nothing the movie does to make Alex charming, and that's why it's harder to feel engaged with his quest. Alex isn't the worst character in the movie though. That title belongs to Alex's best friend Bedders (Dean Chaumoo): an utterly useless character who does nothing but follow Alex around and play the role of moral support. Chaumoo's squeaky voice and dopey facial expressions are more likely to induce anger and annoyance than they are to induce aww's like when someone sees an adorable puppy. Seriously, he serves NO PURPOSE to the movie, other than to be the obligatory best friend character. Lance and Kaye are generic bullies, and even when they become Alex's knights, they still struggle to develop anything resembling a personality. On the other hand, Tom Taylor and Patrick Stewart are perfectly watchable as the young and elderly Merlin, respectively, while Rebecca Ferguson proves she has what it takes to play a convincing villain. Taylor knows how to be goofy, playing a fish out of water kind of role as the younger Merlin, and Patrick Stewart just needs to be himself to play the elderly Merlin. Ferguson brings a slithering, snake-like persona to her role, and she's pretty damn good at it when the movie gives her the chance. Too bad the script doesn't care much to show Morgana in her human form, meaning poor Ferguson is given a stingy amount of screen time to show studios that she would make a good villain in future films. Maybe it's not that much of a surprise that the best characters are those played by the more familiar actors. Louis Ashborne Serkis, Dean Chaumoo, and all the other younger actors certainly have bright futures. They just don't have the experience yet to take a shakily written character and turn it into something convincing.
I do wonder how much confidence 20th Century Fox had in The Kid Who Would Be King, considering they released the film in January: arguably the most reviled month of the cinematic year. The failed box office run of 2017's King Arthur: Legend of the Sword ought to have been enough proof that 21st century audiences aren't exactly raving and screaming about the King Arthur legends, and seeing how The Kid Who Would Be King tanked at the box office, that sentiment still holds true in 2019. It's not a terrible film: the CGI and action are strong enough that the film is never boring, but with an unlikable cast of characters and very little to offer in terms of comedy, The Kid Who Would Be King is a misguided take on the King Arthur legend, believing that simply targeting messages of honor and chivalry at children is enough to give itself a pat on the back. Sure, it means well: always telling the truth, never giving up, and respecting those around you are important lessons that we should be teaching to children. It is entirely possible, however, to get these same points across without having to rely on ridiculous concepts such as putting the King Arthur legend in modern-day England and having an entire school be tasked with fighting a magical army of demons. Charming? Fun? No, I do not think the premise is either of those things, but it sure as hell could be, if the movie wasn't so self-serious. The King Arthur legend could definitely work as a film, but as something like The Kid Who Would Be King? No thanks. This is one King I would not vote for.
Recommend? No. The movie isn't boring, but it isn't exactly pleasant viewing either.
The Emoji Movie is directed by Tony Leondis and stars the voices of T.J. Miller, James Corden, Anna Faris, Maya Rudolph, Steven Wright, Jennifer Coolidge, Christina Aguilera, Sofia Vergara, and Patrick Stewart.
Let's just cut the crap and get right to it: The Emoji Movie has one of the dumbest concepts for a movie ever and is probably the dumbest concept for a movie that I have ever seen up until this point in my lifetime. I thought Jaws: The Revenge had the stupidest concept I had ever heard of (and it still is very much stupid), but when stacked next to The Emoji Movie, Jaws: The Revenge's concept looks like a creativity goldmine. As the great Roger Ebert once put it, it's not what a movie is about, but how the movie is about that thing. This, unfortunately, does not apply to The Emoji Movie, for it's a movie whose what has no hope, no potential, no dignity.
There is one thing that we do learn from The Emoji Movie: Hollywood's creative thinking tank is officially empty. Anything, and I mean anything, is now fair game for Hollywood to consider making a movie out of. Board room meetings among Hollywood producers and executives now go something like, "Hey, remember that movie that came out a while ago and developed a fan base over time? Let's give it a sequel!" or, "Do you remember that toy or fad that was popular at one point in time? Let's make a movie out of it!" All of the laziness, creative ineptitude, and heartless branding that embody the Hollywood business industry today are on full display in The Emoji Movie, for it is a film plagued by lazy humor, a glaring lack of imagination, and rampant product placement. There are simply too many ways one can go about attacking The Emoji Movie's jet black heart of malevolence and greed, and I'll get to the major ones as we go along this review.
For now, it makes the most sense to discuss the basic plot before I get my hands dirty with all of the horrific wrongs of this movie that I have easily declared the winner of Worst Movie of 2017. The Emoji Movie mostly takes place inside the phone of high school student, Alex. Inside Alex's phone is a world known as Textopolis (not Emojiville or Emojiworld or anything like that and is supposed to be the world inside everyone's phone), where all of the phone's emojis live. Gene (T.J. Miller) is a "meh" emoji living in the phone, but he is capable of making many other expressions besides "meh". The Emojis are brought into cubes where a scanner scans them to send up their information whenever Alex decides to use a certain emoji in a text. Alex is crushing on a girl at school named Addie, and he decides to send her an emoji text. Alex decides to use "meh", and the scanner chooses Gene, who is having his first day in his cube. Gene panics, and the resulting text is a confusing expression. Confronting Gene is the text center supervisor, Smiler (Maya Rudolph), who declares that Gene is a malfunction and must be deleted. Smiler unleashes a group of bots to hunt down and delete Gene, but Gene runs away and meets up with the Hi-5 emoji (James Corden), who tells Gene of a hacker named Jailbreak who could help reprogram Gene into a normal "meh" emoji. The two then set out on a journey throughout the phone, causing issues for Alex in his world.
The first trailer for The Emoji Movie dropped back in December 2016, and it unleashed a fire storm of hatred and disbelief similar to the one brought on by the 2016 Ghostbusters. In the months leading up to the film's theatrical release, people everywhere were anxiously wondering, "Is is really going to be that bad?" Turns out, The Emoji Movie is that bad. It is so bad, that I don't hesitate for a second to call it one of the worst animated movies that I have ever seen. I mean, we all knew it was going to suck based on what the teasers and trailers showed us, but even if we had held the slightest bit of optimism that the film could bring another Lego Movie-esque surprise, it was just a matter of time, waiting and waiting until the movie came out and confirmed our worst fears. As I mentioned already, The Emoji Movie had no potential from the get-go, because how much can you do with those cute little faces that are on your phone and get sent through your text messages?
One thing The Emoji Movie does is blatantly steal from other, better animated movies, but without any freaking clue about how to recapture the magical charm of those better animated films. The animated movies that people bring up the most when discussing what animated films that The Emoji Movie copies off of are The Lego Movie, Wreck-it-Ralph, and Inside Out. Among these three, Inside Out is the big one, as both Inside Out and The Emoji Movie involve two different worlds that know almost nothing about one another, yet the events going on in one world impact what's going on in the other world. In Inside Out, the adventures of Joy and Sadness affect what's going on in the life of Riley. In The Emoji Movie, the antics of Gene impact the state of Alex's phone. There's really no contest when trying to decide which is a more interesting world to explore: a human mind or a phone. As much as The Emoji Movie fails in replicating the success of Inside Out, the other animated movie to mention is Toy Story. Director Tony Leondis has stated how much he loved Toy Story, wanting to do a new take on Toy Story's concept, but with a toy that no one had explored yet. Leondis then received a text message with an emoji, and that was when he decided, "That's it! Emojis are the world I want to explore!" So basically, The Emoji Movie was inspired by someone who watched Toy Story and said, "Hey, that was amazing! I want to do that too!" When your director has mentioned how his inspiration comes from the success of another movie and wanting to duplicate it in a different way, you're in a bad spot my friend.
- Even when you get past the whole "ripping off better animated movies" stage, it is still impossible to forgive just how flimsy and goddamn stupid that The Emoji Movie's script is. The world of Textopolis doesn't have anything remotely interesting about it, and the way the film explains how the emojis work by getting scanned by a giant finger scanner isn't creative in the slightest. In the opening minutes, Gene, in voice over, mentions that emojis are the most important form of communication ever invented. Oh, and if you didn't walk out by that point, it doesn't stop there. Any and all remaining prayers that you might have for The Emoji Movie to be at least halfway decent are shot down when you hear lines like, "What if you get sent out on the phone, making the wrong face?" And then you have the obvious product placement slip-ins ("Don't worry! This app is secure!"), and you are left in further disbelief that fully grown human beings sat down in a room and came up with this garbage. But wait! It gets EVEN WORSE!
- Awful dialogue isn't all the script kills your spirits with. There are two horrendous subplots on top of an already horrendous main plot, one being Alex's attempt to win over Addie, the other concerning the relationship between Gene's parents (we are to assume that emojis are capable of breeding...I refuse to proceed any further with that topic), who I'll just call Mom Meh (Jennifer Coolidge) and Dad Meh (Steven Wright). Everything involving Alex concerns his efforts to send Addie an emoji text, (the film never explains how the two got each other's phone numbers, which would suggest that the two have some sort of prior connection), meaning that the film's human romance story completely hinges on the success of one single text message. I don't know about you, but I highly doubt kids nowadays hook up solely by text messages and emojis. It doesn't make any sense, and it's unbelievably stupid. What teenage girl is going to get together with a guy just because he sent her a neat-looking emoji text? And speaking of romance, the subplot concerning Gene's parents involves the two potentially splitting up. That's right, the lethargic Meh emojis are having problems in their relationship. I mean, it's obvious why it's there. It's all for the sake of a bad joke about near emotionless emojis going through an emotional struggle, and it's driven into the ground until there's nothing but dust remaining.
And, of course, I just cannot end this review without briefly discussing the great Sir Patrick Stewart playing the poop emoji. The poop emoji only appears in the beginning of the film and close towards the end, but he's only there for some utterly lame poop jokes, because, y'know, kids just LOVE poop jokes and the writers just couldn't help themselves knowing that a poop emoji exists. But aside from lazy bathroom humor, The Emoji Movie settles for jokes and references that are more shallow than a dried out kiddie pool, completely devoid of wit and refusing to assume that the audience is smart (actually, the movie doesn't offer any proof that it's respecting its audience at all).
It is not enough to say that I hated The Emoji Movie. I hated every second of it, but hate was not my dominant feeling while watching it. More than hatred, I felt depression, depression that I had to accept the fact that this movie truly exists, depression that a film whose inner mechanics that are made up of bad comedy, product placement, and material shamelessly copied from somebody else's work was released in theaters and targeted at children, depression that Hollywood and the cinema, the latter one of the chief joys of my life, would stoop so low so as to green light a movie about freaking emojis. It is not charming or funny or creative in any conceivable way. No, The Emoji Movie is an experiment in trying to destroy charm and humor and imagination, having the foolish notion that children and their minds are merely confined to the world of their phones and are incapable of being wildly creative and imaginative. Yes, it's true: Phones play a big part of people's lives and, sometimes, a little too much. But The Emoji Movie makes no effort in making a meaningful commentary on the way people are attached to their phones. It takes people's phone addictions for granted and uses them as a platform to advertise waning phone apps while also attempting to deliver a "be yourself" message that is of the most cliched of messages normally found in children's films. I hesitate to say The Emoji Movie is a children's film, because it only causes damage and puts constraints on the curious minds of children, and I certainly wouldn't want any small children that I know to go anywhere near The Emoji Movie. This is a movie that needs to be buried deep into the Earth and erased from the cinema history books for all time. Correction: The Emoji Movie is not even a movie. It doesn't deserve any thin satisfaction from being called a movie; it's a heartless, cynical bag of trash that should be erased from all existence, because the world and everyone in it will be much better off not knowing that The Emoji Movie was ever a thing.
Recommend? What do you think?
Here you'll find my reviews on just about any film you may have seen. I try to avoid major spoilers as much as possible. I structure my reviews in the following way: