You get back home from a long day out, and open the door to utter chaos. Shards of what used to be your favourite cup are scattered on the floor, the toilet paper has been unspooled, and you find muddy pawprints on your bed. Your dog wags its tail – is that a hint of guilt you see in its eye? What do pets get up to when they’re home alone ?
That was what producer Chris Meledandri wondered, and he soon realised that almost all pet owners were fascinated by what pets do when we’re not around.
And so was born Illumination Entertainment’s newest release, The Secret Life of Pets, a story about the misadventures of terrier Max after his owner Katie brings home sloppy mongrel Duke from the pound. When Max and Duke find themselves out on the mean streets, they have to unite against a fluffy, cunning bunny named Snowball who is determined to turn pets against their human owners.
Meledandri and long-term production partner Janet Healy chose Chris Renaud and Yarrow Cheney to direct, given their differing, but complementary skills.
“Chris comes from a storyboarding and comic-book background, so he’s a master of timing and staging. Yarrow, on the other hand, has an artistic background in fine arts. He’s a beautiful painter and has one of the most precise and sophisticated colour sense of anybody I’ve ever met,” explains Healy.Unlike films such as Zootopia, where characters look like animals but act, think and talk like humans, the filmmakers wanted to portray the characters as pets.
“Our movie starts with Katie leaving, and Max is immediately struck with how much he misses his owner. His plan ... to sit by the door all day and wait for her. Now, when Max expresses that to another character, yes, he’s talking, but ... it’s a dog-like behaviour,” Meledandri says.
For the film’s version of New York, Renaud was inspired by the drawings of Jean-Jacques Sempe, who drew a lot for The New Yorker magazine.The film is set in autumn to include glorious oranges, golds and reds. “This New York is more like the Emerald City in Oz ... we have skylines in almost every shot. They’re tall, elegant and romanticised,” says Healy.
Not all the design choices are photorealistic, but Meledandri says audience will still believe in the world because of the details.
“That is one of the marvellous opportunities in animation: you can simultaneously create a degree of reality, but also a sense of discovery.”
Opens on June 30