Ultra HD
Worth a Look
3.5 stars
List Price
$22.99
Amazon
$14.99 (35%)
3rd Party
$12.99
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Overall Grade
3.5 stars

(click linked text below to jump to related section of the review)

The Movie Itself
2.5 Stars
HD Video Quality
5 Stars
HD Audio Quality
4.5 Stars
Supplements
1.5 Stars
High-Def Extras
0 Stars
Bottom Line
Worth a Look

The Secret Life of Pets - Ultra HD Blu-ray

Street Date:
December 6th, 2016
Reviewed by:
Review Date: 1
December 5th, 2016
Movie Release Year:
2016
Studio:
Universal Studios
Length:
91 Minutes
MPAA Rating:
PG
Release Country
United States

Editor's Notes

Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of the standard Blu-ray release written by Aaron Peck. Specifically, Aaron penned the "Movie" section while M. Enois Duarte wrote new Vital Disc Stats, Video, Audio, Supplements and Final Thoughts sections.

The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take

It's entirely possible – likely even – that the brains behind the 'Despicable Me' franchise didn't set out to create a 'Toy Story' clone, but that's essentially what happened with 'The Secret Life of Pets.' It's not only the premise (what do animals do when people aren't around?) that mirrors the secret sentient toy idea, but it's the entire structure of the plot. 'The Secret Life of Pets' is virtually the Woody and Buzz tale in dog form.

Max (Louis C.K.) is a happy dog. He reveres his owner Katie (Ellie Kemper). They get along great. They do everything together. Then, one day it all changes. Max's idyllic life is upended by a new house guest. Katie brings home a rescue from the pound. A large hairy dog named Duke (Eric Stonestreet). Max feels threatened by Katie's new pet, becomes jealous…and stop me if you've heard this before.

A remix of the same basic plot for 'Toy Story' wouldn't be that big of a deal if 'The Secret Life of Pets' had anything new to add. Sadly, this movie, which is overrun with forgettable characters, never harnesses even the slightest hint of 'Toy Story'-esque emotion.

The whole relationship between Max and Duke never approaches genuine feeling. Instead it relies on predictable dramatic beats to keep it going. Even then the conflict between the two never feels all that terribly important to begin with. Subsequently, this provides for less than satisfying conflict resolution.

At one point during their misadventures Max and Duke meet a homicidal bunny who fantasizes about a world in which pets kill their owners. The bunny, who is ironically given the cute name of Snowball (Kevin Hart) leads a band of unwanted pets on a crusade against humankind. Snowball curiously looks exactly like the bunny from Pixar's short film 'Presto.' Another coincidence, I'm sure. The problem with Snowball though, is that he isn't given any nuance to make him interesting. It's simply supposed to be funny that he's cute and fluffy and also wants to kill everyone. Kind of like that old visual gag where the biggest, scariest guy in the gang is named Tiny. Ha, ha, right?

Perhaps the most disappointing thing about 'The Secret Life of Pets' is that it attempts to tell a straightforward story. It would've almost been better off continuing on the same route the movie's marketing took and strung together various vignettes of jokes about pets at home alone.  Like a modernized version of Aardman Animation's 'Creature Comforts' series. At least then the filmmakers wouldn't feel tied down to a recognizable story structure.

Every one of the funny pet-home-alone asides we do get to see have already been played ad nauseam on the trailers. None of them are new and witty, so instantly the movie's best jokes are old.

Like 'Minions,' 'The Secret Life of Pets' thinks it can coast by on superficiality. This might be something that passes by the younger crowd – although to be fair many of the kids in my screening appeared bored and restless – but, it'll likely bum out other viewers.

The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats

Universal Studios Home Entertainment brings 'The Secret Life of Pets' to 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray as as a two-disc combo pack with a flyer for a Digital HD Copy. At the moment, we are unable to verify if the correct size of the content, but the dual-layered UHD66 disc sits comfortably opposite a Region Free, BD50 disc inside a black, eco-cutout case with a glossy slipcover. At startup, the disc goes straight to an interactive menu screen with full-motion clips and music playing in the background.

The Video: Sizing Up the Picture

The pets fly the coop and discover the real world with a magnificent, tell-all HEVC H.265 encode in HDR10, delivering a sumptuous, vibrant feast for the eyes. The opening aerial shots of New York City dazzle the screen with luxurious splendor. Throughout, the 4K presentation shines with vivid, richly-saturated primaries while secondary pastel hues energize each scene with a bouncy, lighthearted humor, even when the story is at its gloomiest. Yellows and oranges are true-to-life and impressive, giving the early fall climate an amazing glow and radiance.

The Ultra-HD transfer also comes with pitch-perfect, spot-on contrast. Brilliant specular highlights and whites not only provide fluffy clouds an amazing, realistic glow but also show dramatic variation in the coats of Max, Snowball and Gidget. The top of the ripples in the waves of the Hudson River, in particular, gleam and sparkle with astonishing verisimilitude while the metal of pipes and sign posts realistically glisten in the light. The animation shines with inky-rich blacks showing splendid, clear differences between the various shades, revealing every nook and cranny inside Snowball's underground sewer lair.

Presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, the video is simply jaw-dropping and crystal clear.  Every frame shows razor-sharp lines in the individual blades of grass and in each leaf of trees while the tiniest pockmark and crack along the sidewalk and buildings are distinctly visible. The hairs of every fluffy furry dog and the feathers of birds show the most trivial detail and nuance, giving each animal an incredible sense of realism. Arguably, most shocking is seeing the subtle particularities, bumps and blemishes on the noses of dogs and the beaks of birds. Overall, this is a stunning and gorgeous film to enjoy on Ultra-HD Blu-ray. 

The Audio: Rating the Sound

As Aaron already pointed out in his review, the Dolby Atmos soundtrack accompanying the animated film offers a great listen, but it doesn't quite compare to some of the best out there.

Nevertheless, the design arrives with excellent directionality, as various atmospherics move from speaker to speaker with flawless panning. On various occasions, the room fills with the hustle and bustle noise of the city in the distance while other, more intimate moments are layered with the subtle effects of local wildlife and other people, such as the scene in the dog park.

Many of those same sounds periodically move into the ceiling speakers, creating a cool half-dome effect, especially when the action erupts on screen. One of the more memorable scenes takes place inside Snowball sewer lair with the voices of other animals echoing all around. But the best moment by far is when Max and Duke are confronted by the scary alley cats. Their hissing and menacing meows occupy the entire space above the listener.

But as is often the case with animated films and Atmos tracks, a majority of the action takes place in the front soundstage, spreading into the height channels with convincing off-screen effects. Imaging is broad and spacious with an extensive and richly detailed mid-range, generating an effectively engaging wall of sound that’s continuous. Though not earth-shattering, low bass is palpable and adequate, providing the action and music with appreciable weight and presence. Vocals are pristine and well-prioritized, making for a great listen on UHD. 

The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff

  • Mini-Movies (HD, 20 min) — Three animated shorts are included ("NormanTV," "Weenie" and "Mower Minions"), followed by a making-of featurette.
  • The Humans That Brought You Pets (HD, 9 min) — The directors, writer and producers discuss the production, touching on the plot, characters and other aspects.
  • All About the Pets (HD, 6 min) — Stars Kevin Hart and Eric Stonestreet spend some time with real animals in a funny skit that's essentially an extended commercial.
  • Anatomy of a Scene (HD, 5 min) — Key animators and producers briefly describe the process of animating a scene.
  • Animals Can Talk: Meet the Actors (HD, 4 min) — A sneak peek at the actors providing the voices for their respective characters and having a good time while doing so.
  • Hairstylist to the Dogs (HD, 4 min) — Viewers can learn a few dos and don'ts for pampering and coiffuring your pets from stylist Jess Rona.
  • How to Make an Animated Film (HD, 4 min) — Various cast and crew members share their thoughts on the film and the process behind making an animated film.
  • Brian and the Minions on Pets (HD, 3 min) — The little yellow villains watch three separate scenes from the movie in MST3K-like style.
  • Lyric Video (HD, 2 min) — Scenes from the movie are edited together while the song "Lovely Day" plays in the foreground and lyrics are displayed.
  • Go-Pro: The Secret Life of Pets (HD, 2 min) — A commercial for the cameras using specific clips from the movie.
  • The Best of Snowball (HD, 1 min) — Another minute with the leader of the anti-human rebellion for those who couldn't get enough of his company the first time around.
  • Hot Dog Sing-Along (HD, 1 min) — The hot-dog fantasy sequence is offered as a sing-along with lyrics to "We Go Together" displaying on screen.
  • Trailers (HD)

HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?

Other than the UHD Blu-ray with HDR10, there are no exclusive features on this release.

Final Thoughts

The animation of Universal's 'The Secret Life of Pets' is stunning and a feast for the eyes, but unfortunately, that's enough to make up for a rather pedestrian and unexceptional plot. Still, it makes for lighthearted, undemanding entertainment for the whole family with several funny moments sprinkled throughout. The Ultra HD Blu-ray arrives with gorgeous reference-quality 4k video and an excellent audio presentation. making this UHD version the best way to watch and enjoy the animated family film. Although the supplements are disappointingly light, the UHD package is recommended for early adopters and the curious.

Technical Specs

  • Two-Disc UHD Combo Pack
  • UHD-66 Dual-Layer Disc / BD-50 Dual-Layer Disc
  • Region Free

Video Resolution/Codec

  • 2160p HEVC/H.265

Aspect Ratio(s)

  • 1.85:1

Audio Formats

  • English Dolby Atmos
  • English Dolby TrueHD 7.1
  • French Dolby Digital 5.1
  • Spanish Dolby Digital Plus 7.1

Subtitles/Captions

  • English SDH
  • French
  • Spanish

Supplements

  • Short Animated Films
  • Featurettes
  • Sing-Along Music Videos
  • Trailers
  • UltraViolet Digital Copy

Exclusive HD Content

  • Blu-ray Copy

All disc reviews at High-Def Digest are completed using the best consumer HD home theater products currently on the market. More about our gear.

Puzzled by the technical jargon in our reviews, or wondering how we assess and rate HD DVD and Blu-ray discs? Learn about our review methodology.

List Price
$22.99
Amazon
$14.99 (35%)
3rd Party
$12.99
Usually ships in 24 hours Buy Now»