I recently saw two animated movies, Zootopia and The Secret Life of Pets, and – because I can’t turn my internal critic off – I’m going to do a comparison of the two.
Zootopia is a police procedural set in a fictional universe where animals are intelligent and have adapted their world to suit their needs. The story focuses on Judy Hopps, a rabbit come to the big city to be a detective. Unfortunately, her prejudiced boss delegates her to the task of meter maid. She manages to put herself on a disappearance case, but this forces her to work with the irresponsible Nick Wilde.
The Secret Life of Pets is about a dog named Max, who has a good life. Then his owner gets a new dog, Duke, and his life is in shambles. The story focuses on Max and Duke’s hostile relationship, which leads them to escape the dog walker, get caught by animal control, and have a run-in with an underground movement of rebellious pets.
Where Zootopia manages to create an interesting mystery that drives the character arcs, I found that the Secret Life of Pets just created a series of set-piece scenes to facilitate the relationship story between Max and Duke. And since that story is pretty cliché – Toy Story anyone? – I wasn’t terribly enthralled.
If you look at Zootopia, Judy Hopps is the underdog character, or in this case ‘underbunny’ (yes, I went there). Nick is the rakish freeloader who gets forced to help the goody-two-shoes bunny. Both characters have enough charm and depth to make the story interesting. The story manages to touch upon racism, forcing the characters apart, without making the point too heavy-handedly. Cleverly done.
The Secret Life of Pets features a cardboard cast of characters. Max is a jerk, but Duke as well, both in their own way. The rest of the cast can best be described as ‘the dumb one’, ‘the innocent looking one who’s actually bad-ass’, and ‘the bunny who talks like a gangsta’. It bored me to no end.
So, Zootopia has both an interesting plot and cast, while The Secret Life of Pets has a cliché plot, with an unsympathetic or cardboard cast.
What about the animals
Both movies use animals as characters. Zootopia’s story isn’t really fixed to the animal angle, while the Secret Life of Pets story would be really weird if you used real people who were living as pets in other people’s houses. Come to think of it, the Secret Life of Pets might actually have benefited from this. A story about a group of free-loaders living off other people might have been more interesting.
Secret Life of Pets uses the pet angle for some jokes about animals and their owners, but it only made me smile once or twice. Maybe because I actually do have three cats.
Zootopia’s plot doesn’t really require animals, but the movie is full of subtle ways in which they are used. The writers sprinkled the story with a take on the high-concept idea ‘what if animals were the intelligent rulers of the world?’ They also used animals as a mirror to highlight prejudices that exist in our own world.
All in all, Zootopia used their gimmick to far better effect than Secret Life of Pets did.
Zootopia is a fun movie to watch. The Secret Life of Pets couldn’t hold my attention. Since both movies did well in the box office, I guess I’m alone in that idea.
Ah well, do with my opinion what you want.