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Mixed reviews for 'Secret Life of Pets' – where does Universal go from here?

'Pets' stars actors including Louis C.K., Jenny Slate, and Eric Stonestreet as animals who act very differently when their owners aren't around and who embark on an adventure.

Charles Sykes/Invision/AP
'The Secret Life of Pets' features the voices of actors including Louis C.K.

Ever wonder what your furry friends are doing when you’re out of the house? Universal Studios did, too. 

The new animated movie “The Secret Life of Pets,” which stars actors including Jenny Slate, Louis C.K., and Eric Stonestreet, is now in theaters and tells the story of how animals behave when their owners are away, with an enmity erupting between dog Max (Mr. C.K.) and a new pet, Duke (Mr. Stonestreet).

So far, the film has gotten mixed reviews from critics. Brian Truitt of USA Today called it an “entertainingly nutty” story that “sparkles most when imagining some of its crazier shenanigans,” although it “meanders in spots.” Variety writer Peter Debruge, meanwhile, called it “the studio’s most accomplished feature.” However, “while the [Illumination Entertainment] formula invites far more humor into the mix than the relatively emotion-driven Pixar approach...the studio still hasn’t quite figured out how to sell the sentimental side,” he wrote.  

Meanwhile, A.O. Scott of the New York Times called it “pretty good fun,” though he found that “this movie never achieves – and does not really aim for – the emotional richness or visual inventiveness of the better Pixar features, or the sly social consciousness of ‘Zootopia.’” Nevertheless, it “has a playful absurdity and a winning, friendly spirit,” Mr. Scott writes. 

“Pets” is released by Illumination Entertainment, which was acquired by Universal and is likely best known for the “Despicable Me” films and the spin-off resulting from them, the “Minions” movie. 

Any animated movie released in America is battling Pixar and Disney – the latter of which also owns Pixar, and released this year’s smash hit “Zootopia.”

Illumination Entertainment did well with the “Despicable Me” series, though – the first 2010 movie became a big hit and the second movie did even better, though the follow-up was less well-received by critics. 

It also has a possibly valuable relationship with the works of children’s author Dr. Seuss. Illumination Entertainment released an animated version of Seuss’s “The Lorax” in 2012, which became a box office hit, though critics panned it. 

The “Despicable Me” series – a third is planned for 2017 – and Seuss adaptations could help bolster Illumination Entertainment's standing in the animated world. A new take on “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” starring “Sherlock” actor Benedict Cumberbatch is set for 2018. 

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