When The Secret Life of Pets came out in 2016, more than a few people pointed out the similarities between the Illumination Entertainment animated comedy and Pixar’s Toy Story. But there’s nothing wrong with copying a tried-and-true formula, or emulating an all-time animated classic. However, it does raise a few more eyebrows now that Toy Story 3 director Lee Unkrich has revealed that he had pitched a Pixar film about pets living in a Manhattan apartment at least a decade before The Secret Life of Pets hit theaters.
In Bob Iger’s memoir The Ride of a Lifetime, the former Disney CEO describes visiting Pixar in 2006 and sitting in on a pitch meeting, where he heard Unkrich pitch a story that sounded eerily similar to the premise of Illumination’s 2016 hit The Secret Life of Pets.
“Lee Unkrich, who would go on to direct Toy Story 3 and Coco, pitched a movie about pets in an apartment building on the Upper West Side of Manhattan,” the segment of the book reads, as pointed out by an eagle-eyed reader who noted the similarities to the Illumination film. Unkrich confirmed that he made the pitch, but that his story idea was a departure from what The Secret Life of Pets ultimately ended up being (cough, a Toy Story knock-off), and was instead a “Hitchcockian murder mystery.”
“True. It was a Hitchcockian murder mystery. I put it aside to direct Toy Story 3,” Unkrich said on Twitter
True. It was a Hitchcockian murder mystery. I put it aside to direct Toy Story 3. https://t.co/nUgpSaPgtM
— Lee Unkrich (@leeunkrich) September 14, 2020
With the setting of the Upper West Side apartment and pets who laze about inside, Unkrich’s pitch definitely sounds like it could unfold into a Rear Window-style thriller. It certainly sounds like it would have been much more interesting than what Illumination did with the premise with The Secret Life of Pets (though, with the film and its sequel raking in $1.3 billion at the box office, who am I to say anything?). However, I am glad that Unkrich went on to make Toy Story 3 instead.
When The Secret Life of Pets came out, several critics criticized the film’s similarities to Toy Story. Our own Ethan Anderton called the movie “a poor excuse for a Toy Story retread,” noting that the relationship between Max and Duke was akin to “Woody and Buzz Lightyear all over again.” But the film went on to spawn a sequel with 2019’s The Secret Life of Pets 2, which at least managed to escape those Pixar comparisons. And don’t worry about Unkrich, he did well for himself: directing the Oscar-winning Toy Story 3, of course, and the Oscar-winning Coco.
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