Sunday, July 10, 2016

Flushed Pets: The Secret Life Of Pets & the Raccoon President

One of the first lessons we learned in my first film criticism class was that animated films are rarely for children; they are simply too long and, quite frankly, they are usually too advanced. How many kids, for example, really know what their parents do at work all day? The kids hardly understand "going to work" any better than the animated pets in the film, so animated films are usually geared more towards adults, but it's easier to take the kids to those kinds of "adult films" rather than more violent or sexual themed films (the kids know and engage with certain parts of the film, but a two-hour narrative is just too complex for most kids to be able to completely take in, they just haven't developed sufficiently to be able to take in that much information). So, what makes an animated film about pets so grown-up? To begin with, identifying the animated pets behavior with behavior you have actually witnessed in your own life. For example, when Max and Duke are hungry and go "begging" for a handout, they put on their most pitiful faces; we have certainly all encountered the dog looking longingly at our hamburger or even corn flakes because, if we have it, they want it, too. This makes the film funny. We "meet the animators" in this moment because they have identified pet behavior they have seen in their own animals and presented it for us so that we can see it in our animals, too, so, we have "bonded" with the film makers through a shared experience of our pets' behaviors. Because we can see our own dogs sitting in front of the door waiting for us to return from work (as Max does in the image above) the animators have won our trust that they understand pets, so when we later see Max intentionally tearing up Katie's apartment to "frame Duke" so Katie won't want him anymore, we can go over the bridge of disbelief because the film makers have all ready constructed enough trust between them and ourselves that we are willing to believe Max would "frame" Duke even though we know that isn't possible in reality (this scene in the film might possibly be a reference to the Disney film The Ugly Dachshund). (N.B.: The text below is having a web problem, the format isn't being corrected properly and refuses to be edited; I apologize for the poor formatting, the html isn't cooperating).
ON A VERY IMPORTANT POLITICAL NOTE, IF YOU THINK MY REVIEWS ARE POLITICAL, PLEASE TAKE A MOMENT and read this asinine interpretation that intentionally skews facts about the film to arrive at a liberal reading that in no way exists. For example, Dr. Johnson completely misses--intentionally--that the rabbit is named Snowball as a reference to George Orwell's anti-socialist novel Animal Farm; he also doesn't get the name of Gidget correct, instead calling her Gigi. He also intentionally fails to mention the character Frank, a black man who "flushed" Duke after Duke ran away and didn't come to retrieve him from the pound. If he can't even get the basic facts of the film correct, he has no right spreading information about it. Why would he offer such a slanderous reading? To keep white people from going to see a film that is anti-Obama and anti-socialist (not anti-black or anti-black-power, that is his own shallow and erroneous reading). The "basis" of Dr. Johnson's "interpretation" of the film comes from comedian Kevin Hart (who does the voice for Snowball) and Hannibal Buress (who does the voice for Buddy) being black. That's the reason Dr. Johnson is upset, Hart and Buress are black. If you will recall, blacks were upset at the "White Out Oscars" because THERE WEREN'T ANY BLACK PEOPLE, now Johnson is upset because there are black people in this cast (don't forget, he completely ignores Duke's owner Frank being black!). It doesn't matter what is or isn't done, they are determined to be upset, and the less realistic their complaints are, the more their fellow "thugs" are going to rally to protect them from reality and the consequences of what they are arguing.
The opening shot of a film is always, ALWAYS the most important; unless, of course, the closing scene of a film is more important, and then that's what's most important,... The opening scene is most important because it presents you the first impression, the beat is set and the rhythm guides you through the rest of the narrative; on the other hand, the last scene can be the most important because it's the last thing you are apt to take with you from the film, the last morsel that reminds you of everything you have just enjoyed and experienced and the concluding note the film makers can sound out, insuring you engaged with all the right notes throughout the story. The first few seconds of The Secret Life Of Pets is the most important scene, except for the last scene, that makes sure we picked up on everything we needed to pick up on, so, we are going to start with the last scene, then move to the first scene of this perfectly lovable and politically explosive film.
Technically, the first of the film isn't even The Secret Life of Pets, but Mower Minions, from the team who created both films. We can be confident that, far from being a time-suck to fill up the two-hours, the minions actually contribute to The Secret Life Of Pets because, at the end, Mel is dressed as a minion, reminding us of what we saw two hours earlier. So, what is the connection? Capitalism. It's quite simple: the minions see a blender they want, so what do they do? They don't cash in their welfare check, or hustle their food stamps, they go out and work for what they want. How revolutionary. While the senior citizens at Fuzzy Memories center get a good laugh at the minions, it brings to mind the elders in Independence Day when Julius promotes his book, How I Saved the World, and the seniors don't react to him, suggesting that they would be better off dead because they have ceased contributing to society because they aren't interested in Julius (please see A Controlled Dive: Independence Day for more). In Mower Minions, there is an even exchange that takes place: the minions get their $19.95 and the seniors get fabulous entertainment. On a different level, we the audience are like the seniors at Fuzzy Memories, because we, too, are paying for the entertainment we hope to see. Like trying to understand the senior who doesn't have his teeth in, we might not catch everything that is being said (like Snowball's comment about the raccoon not being the president) and like the woman without her hearing aide, we might not hear everything the film is saying, but at this blog, searching for those clues and details is what we do best, and we'll find as many as we can: case in point, how many people even picked up that the seniors in the scene were agents of "artistic noise and silence?" When the minions have their smoothie machine and have become bloated on the smoothies they have enjoyed, a new machine has come out for $142! They roll out to go earn money to buy that one; why? Because capitalism is a self-perpetuating system. If we had all been happy with VCRs, we wouldn't have continued working; we would watch one or two movies over and over and over and over,... but then, the DVD player came out, and so we worked for that, because it was better! We can mock ourselves at this point but trust me, I don't want to go back to watching VHS tapes, I am happy living in a society with a free and evolving market that produces top-notch electronics. The minions are compelled to go out and work for what they want, so the free market--the new smoothie machine that "does all the work for you"--compels them to contribute to society so they can have what they want. This is an act of free will: no one is forcing the minions to go out and work for the new smoothie machine, this is them making the decision for themselves. 
At the end of the film, Buddy and Mel go to Leonard's apartment (the Poodle who doesn't say anything but head bangs to loud rock) and Buddy looks at Mel and says, "I thought you said this was a costume party?" THAT is incredibly important, because ANY TIME there is a mask (even if no one is wearing it, it's just decor or a prop) it means that SOME CHARACTER(S) IS WEARING A MASK and we have to take the mask off of them in order to understand what the film wants to communicate so.
Technically, Max is the hero of the story because it's his life and "adventure" in the film which we experience, however, the real hero of the film--by traditional standards--would be Gidget, the Pomeranian because she exhibits genuinely heroic traits and values (more on her below). Max experiences conversion in realizing his life is going to be better with Duke, but there is a fine line being walked here, and that line is one every pet owner knows. When a person decides to get a pet, they make an EXCHANGE: "I'm going to exchange my clean floors for floors that always have fur blowing around on them because I want someone happy to see me at the end of my work day," or, "I'm going to exchange my evenings of not having to do anything to walking the dog each night so s/he will have the joy of exercise we both need instead of just sitting in front of the TV." It would be easy to interpret the thesis of the film as advocating wealth re-distribution and socialism because Duke is homeless and wants to move in with Max and Katie,... that's not what is going on. Duke has something to offer Max, and it's only with the "adventure" that Max and Duke discover what Duke can offer Max: love. Love, without a doubt, is the thesis of the film because it's for love that we will do and can do anything. Later, when Max and Duke are at the sausage factory, and the song, We Go Together plays, it's clearly a utopia setting; why? Because that utopia wouldn't be possible without the factory, the sausage factory. At the end of The Legend Of Tarzan, Tarzan, and Jane appear to be naked with their newborn child, as if Africa is their "new" Eden without God (now that all the capitalists have been thrown out). The Secret Life Of Pets, however, makes the point that, if life had been so good with us being in nature, then we would not have invented ways of making life "better," life would have all ready been at its best and we would have been satisfied to let things stay as they were, like with the Mower Minions sitting on the couch until they want that smoothie machine. So the point of the sausage scene is, if liberals want a utopia, the industrialized world is likely going to have to be a part of it.
SO, when Buddy asks Mel about it being a "costume party," that means, in reality, that the entire film was a "costume party" and everyone has to be unmasked. So, at the party, who is the character who doesn't say anything? The white standard poodle Leonard who has everyone over to party. Who is Leonard? His owner is obviously white collar/upper-class, and Leonard let's everyone come over and party at the owner's expense, so who is doing that? We can say Millennials because they are willing to sell-out their parents' wealth for everyone else but we can also say politicians because, like the film Project X, Leonard is having a party when the adult (his owner) isn't present; "Have you been a good boy, Leonard?" and the pig falling out of the ceiling indicates that no, Leonard (which means "lion strength" he isn't exhibiting) wasn't good, he was busy doing exactly what he had been trusted not to do: party and invite others over (please see Project X and the Democratic "Party" for more). But there is one character, specifically, who wears a "mask" but we never even see that character; who is it?
The raccoon.
Gidget. Her name combines "girl" and "midget" because of her stature and invokes the novels, films and TV series of Gidget, which starred both Sally Fields and Sandra Dee (I could spend time elaborating on the capitalist connections here, but I won't). She is as tiny as tiny can be; she looks as feminine as feminine can be, but she is, undoubtedly, the heroine of this tale, because she does what feminists basically bet against her doing: she leads an army to save Max. Gidget, in other words, doesn't have to be politically empowered by a group of feminist thugs because she has all the "girl power" she needs all ready within her, even if she hasn't found it until she needs it (more on this below with Tiberius). Another slam against feminism which Gidget provides us is her motivation: she doesn't become this incredibly empowered leader simply to experience power and leadership: she does it for love (of Max). That is perhaps as anti-feminist as you can get, and I am 100% in favor of it! Why is Gidget watching the Spanish soap opera when she learns that Max has disappeared? Because love transcends language, it applies to every people and every culture. Watching soap operas also goes against feminism and what feminists believe women should be doing with their days (out competing with men for promotions and higher pay raises rather than being at home watching TV). 
Technically, there is not a raccoon in the film, except when Snowball wakes up from the terrifying bus ride and, out of nowhere, yells, "That raccoon is not the president!" and then collapses again. Raccoons wear a "mask" (which links the raccoon to the "costume party" at the end of the film) making them look like little bandits, but who is the raccoon and why did Snowball think he's the president? Let's put this thought on hold and jump to the beginning of the film.
When Snowball first appears as he jumps out of the sewer to stop the Animal Control truck, Snowball beats up the minority man (minorities think they are in charge with socialism, but they are abused even worse under socialism) and, since Snowball is clearly a symbol of the socialist movement in the US, the minority dog catcher getting so beat up provides an excellent metaphor for a country such as Venezuela which is languishing under the socialist rule they thought was going to save them. The minority dog catcher yelling to the white guy in the truck, "Save yourself!" is like the people in Venezuela calling out to white men in America, "Save yourself from the socialist threat! Don't let them beat you up the way they have beaten us!" When Snowball gets inside the van, he uses a carrot, which is food, and turns the carrot from food into a key that releases the prisoners; why? Socialists want to release prisoners into society because it destabilizes society and creates more voters for the socialists. Socialism, in its very nature, is violent, so the more violence they can release to attack and destroy the "power base" (humans, in the case of The Secret Life Of Pets) the easier the revolution will be to achieve a total socialist take-over. Who is Snowball there to release? Ripper, who is so dangerous, he has to wear a screen over his face, and Snowball is going to release him back into society, just like Obama releasing thousands of dangerous federal prisoners back into society. Remember, Max and Duke convince Snowball to release them because they tell Snowball they killed their owners (and Max and Duke bragging that they "burned their collars" is akin to women burning their bras in the 1960s). When Snowball releases Max and Duke, he tells them that they work for him now, so he's having Max and Duke switch their owner Katie to Snowball being their owner. That's an aspect of socialism that people don't think about: sure, you might hate your boss, but you can always go find another job or you can hope that you'll get a new boss who is better; there's hope. In socialism, the government is your boss. And the person they put in charge over you, cannot be fired (just as you can't "be fired") so there is no hope (not to mention, a socialist government doesn't care about how you feel, they just want to make sure you fulfill your quota). And because there is no democracy in socialism, you can't vote to change the government, so short of another bloody and violent revolution to go back to democracy and capitalism, you're stuck in socialism, which is why the film makers wanted to name the lead villain Snowball, so viewers would be reminded of all the ills inherent in socialist systems. 
The first image in The Secret Life Of Pets is of a cloud in the sky; why? "Head in the clouds," or "The sky's the limit," comes to mind as possible meanings for this image; the second image is of the Statue of Liberty, and then the New York City skyline as Taylor Swift's song Welcome To New York begins playing. Given that New York is the financial capital of the world, we can interpret that one who has their head in the clouds ("dreamers") and those who see that the only limit on their potential is the sky, and see the rights guaranteed to them by the symbol of the Statue Of Liberty, we can take this introductory scene to the entire film to be a celebration of capitalism. New York wouldn't be the extraordinary place in the world that it is if it didn't draw people with its opportunity and help people succeed. This interpretation is validated by the music playing,...
It would be easy to interpret The Secret Life Of Pets to be about immigrants or wealth re-distribution, since Max now has to share everything with Duke who had nothing before and is now living with Katie and Max. Those are the rosie terms in which liberals paint the ugly reality of "wealth re-distribution."  However, when Max and Duke are enduring their adventure together, Max realizes that it's not "sharing" or that Duke isn't "taking over," even though it seemed that way at the beginning: this is an "exchange." This is a lesson for liberals, that people shouldn't just be given things (welfare, food stamps, healthcare, citizenship) there is an exchange that takes place, and only then is it a positive situation, rather than robbing and stealing.
Not only does Ms. Swift's own dedication and hard work to become a singer/songwriter in her (very) early life, and contribute to the introduction, but also the lyrics of the song Welcome To New York. Why is this important? Because everything in the film is masked, and we're trying to decide who the raccoon that thinks he is president, but isn't, is in reality. To answer the question, we can call on Poe.
We could say that Gidget is really dumb for trusting Tiberius when it's obvious he wants to make a meal out of her, but the exact opposite happens: Gidget has a brilliant power-move when she offers an exchange with Tiberius: if he will help her find Max, Gidget will be his best friend. Tiberius tells Gidget that he was "born with killer instincts. I'm a selfish predator," but when he imagines how much fun he and Gidget could have if she's his best friend, then his stronger instinct for companionship over-rides his innate killer instincts (the same happens with Tiberius and the hamster). In other words, Tiberius needs companionship more than he needs food. It's important to establish that Tiberius is still a predator, a killer, he's not becoming a vegetarian; rather, Tiberius--like Katie in adopting Max and later Duke--makes a willing exchange, a sacrifice for some greater good he will gain from the exchange. This is a cornerstone of the film because it reflects the social contract in which individuals agree to sacrifice some freedom in exchange for the protection of other freedoms. For example, I sacrifice the innate wrath I get in reading liberals and my natural instinct to kill them because I prefer living in a society where I can walk around in freedom and the consequences are, to me, greater in committing murder of a liberal than the benefit; therefore, I sacrifice (what in nature would be a "right" or instinct) and respect the law that forbids murder. The problem is, liberals themselves refuse to adhere to the social contract. For example, homosexuality has been outlawed because the majority of heterosexuals didn't want to be exposed to the perversion that homosexuality is; homosexuals, however, demand "equal rights" and refuse to make sacrifices in exchange for living in society, demanding that every one else suffer so they can do whatever they want to do; the same applies with transgender bathroom "regulations," there is a clear majority that doesn't want these regulations (which are being illegally forced, not having gone through the proper channels of Congress first) and yet liberals insist on oppressing the majority for the sake of less than  1% o.f the population Liberals, then, have greatly damaged the social exchange, which we see in Snowball and his army. On a slightly different note, when Gidget goes to the top of the apartment building to look for Max, Gidget ascends, she accesses within herself a higher level of consciousness (this is different from Max and Duke trying to tap into their un-evolved wolf natures that they never really had, this is Gidget utilizing skills she has, but never had reason to utilized before). Gidget becomes overwhelmed looking at the vast skyline, and it's then that she hears the voice in the creepy old, dark shed; that shed symbolizes an inner-part of Gidget she's never needed to open before, her leadership skills. Dogs obviously don't have any bird skills--so Gidget can't her "inner hawk" to help her find Max--but Tiberius symbolizes Gidget's courage, organizing and fighting abilities, hence, the name after the Roman emperor and legendary general. So, the situation of Max disappearing brings out the very best in Gidget, but what about Max? Snowball isn't Max's worst side, even though Max descends into the sewers with Snowball, Snowball isn't a symbol of what is all ready in Max, but Snowball is a consequence of what is inside Max if Max continues allowing his "lower appetites and instincts" to guide him rather than his more noble instincts, in other words, because Max is being selfish in not wanting to adopt Duke, a figure like Snowball appears to fight on behalf of all "flushed pets," and that is Snowball. The perfect illustration of this is when Duke has gotten caught again by the pound (and tells Max to save himself) and Max has to walk across the cracked windshield of the vehicle to get to Duke; the windshield symbolizes "reflection" of the vehicle, and the "vehicle" of the film is the conflict between Max and Duke because Max didn't want another dog; so when we see Max walking across the cracked windshield, we are seeing the internal process Max endures of realizing that they are in that position because of how Max treated Duke. Snowball having to jump in and provide Max with the keys symbolizes that Max's conversion is now complete because he doesn't want to save Duke out of guilt, or fear of consequences from other flushed pets (an army uprising) rather because he genuinely cares for Duke and wants Duke to be a part of his life, and this is why the scene takes place in water. Even though animals don't have souls and cannot receive the redeeming Grace of Baptism, water symbolizes Grace, repentance and conversion, so both Max and Duke realize their lives will be better with the other, hence, Duke and Max are both saved in that scene. 
In the upcoming Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, Alice goes to Raccoon City to find the evil Umbrella organization she's been battling and, in the Marvel's upcoming Dr. Strange with Benedict Cumberbatch, the evil character Kaecilius (Mads Mickelson), who says, "I am death, I am pain," has dark circles drawn around his eyes like a raccoon's. In 2012, The Raven, about Edgar Allan Poe's last days (starring John Cusack, Luke Evans) came out and, in the film, Poe had a pet raccoon named Carl (no, Poe did not have a pet raccoon in real life; there is also a costume party like what Buddy and Mel think there is at the end of The Secret Life Of Pets in The Raven). The film takes place in  1889, the year Poe died, but in 1888, Karl Marx's The Communist Manifesto was published; when we see the raccoon Carl in The Raven, he's eating a human heart; why? Because that's what socialism does, it eats the human heart and destroys what's best within us (please see The Raven & the Raccoon: Edgar Allan Poe & Karl Marx for more).  So, is there a communist (Karl Marx) who has masked his real identity (the raccoon mask) and is a pest (raccoon's are pests that carry disease and destroy everything) who thinks he is president even though there have been disputations that he is not president? Remember, Snowball was asleep, then he woke up and said, "That raccoon is not the president," because America was asleep when we elected Obama, but then we woke up to who he really was and what he was doing.
The "whiteness" of both Snowball and Gidget has prompted Dr. Johnson to accredit them with "white privilege."  Regrettably, Dr. Johnson doesn't know anything about art, or politics at that, and he ignores an important fact of the film: before Snowball jumps into the river to help Max and Duke, he kisses Gidget; why? Let's talk about their leadership styles first. Snowball is angry at Max, Gidget is in love with Max; Snowball lives in the sewers gathering others who want to kill people, Gidget goes to the rooftop and gathers a group that wants to save Max. Snowball releases a dangerous animal from animal control (Ripper) while Gidget releases the other animals from their fear of being outside the apartment building without their leashes. Now, when the animals are on the bridge, Max and Duke are sinking, Snowball kisses Gidget and yells, "Remember me!" Why does this happen?  A kiss symbolizes the "breath of life," when we kiss someone, we are giving them our very life force, and when we receive a kiss from someone, we are receiving their life force (which is why a new husband and wife kiss at their wedding to seal their marriage agreement, they are entering into a new life with each other). Snowball needs the "life force" of leadership which Gidget has exhibited that Snowball doesn't have within himself in order to (possibly) die saving Max and Duke. Once Snowball makes this act of love, however, he's converted and can now be adopted by a new owner. 
Lastly, with The Legend Of Tarzan having just come out, and there being a clear battle between the human and the animal natures within us, we have to say that the same battle is waged in The Secret Life Of Pets, yet in in this film, it comes out in favor of the humans: while we each enjoy the "creature comforts" of middle class life, that doesn't make us animals, nor does it make our animals humans that they also enjoy comfortable chairs and eating pizza.
The top image is from The Legend Of Tarzan, and illustrates for us the dichotomy between Tarzan's animal nature and human nature (more on this in the upcoming post on Tarzan). The Secret Life Of Pets, however, flips this, and makes the reverse argument: our "animal instincts" aren't to return to the wild (remember that Max and Duke try to get in touch with their wolf instinct that just doesn't exist anymore, and the film makers are saying that same for us humans); the "creature comforts" which we enjoy in our (mostly) middle-class lives are because of the hardships we experienced when we lived in nature, e.g., not having heat or cool air in the changing seasons, having to expend as many calories to obtain food as the food we were working to obtain, being able to rest in safety, communicating with others, etc. In other words, everything which capitalism has done has been in response to our animal natures and our time in nature (like inventing clothing, food preservation methods, and guns to protect ourselves and make getting food easier, etc.). "Digressing" back to a state of living like savages, which is what The Legend Of Tarzan argues for, is impossible, because we would just keep inventing thins to make life easier, like what we've all ready done. 
The Secret Life Of Pets can endow animals with the best of human qualities, but it inspires us to be better people, it doesn't give us a license to ignore the needs of other human beings or to be selfish, something that, as Christians, we are quite familiar with; on the other hand, it also reminds us that of all the things there are, love is the greatest, and nothing can make friends out of enemies as the power of love can.
Eat Your Art Out,
The Fine Art Diner
One of the traditional arguments of those in favor of socialism argue that, in capitalism "You're on your own," and there is no one there to help you if you get into trouble. In the image above, we see the friends of Max who have rallied to come to his help; why? As Chloe, the fat, gray cat argued, Max was always there for them, and helped save them in all of their distress, so they were going to help Max (Gidget, of course, was always going to help her roguishly handsome Max). On the other hand, when the hairless cat in the bottom image threatens to fight Duke, a host of rabid-looking alley cats come to help the hairless cat; why? This is the kind of "help" socialists get, thugs. These alley cats are like those in Black Lives Matter, or feminists who "circle the wagon" and defend any outrageous claim one of them has made (and they make these claims because they know their fellow thugs will "protect them" from the consequences of their idiocy).  The film makers are also wanting to make a grander statement with this comparison: please note how there is "diversity" in the image on top (cat, birds, rodent, dogs)  whereas the bottom image is only cats, so when socialists argue about capitalists not having diversity, the thugs we see "circling the wagon" are all going  to be the same as the idiot making all the noise, they will either be all black, all women, all gay, or all rich-white-corrupt politicians who don't want to go to jail themselves.