The Secret Life of Pets movie review

Pet owners share a common characteristic no matter what that pet happens to be.  They love their pet just as much as a family member, they talk to their pet for a sympathetic ear when no one else is available, and they couldn’t bear the thought of losing them.  I’m speaking of the owners who take the time to learn what is really involved in adopting a pet.  Because there are those who don’t share that responsibility and have pets for selfish or malicious reasons.  Whether you believe a pet understands you and knows what it is being put through, you should always respect him or her and give them a reason for wanting to live in a bowl, a cage, a backyard, or your apartment.

In The Secret Life of Pets, directed by Chris Renaud and Yarrow Cheney, Max, voiced by Louis C.K., is a little dog living in New York City with his owner Katie.  She gets companionship from him and affection while he gets food, shelter, affection, and the anticipation of waiting for her when she leaves for work.  It’s the perfect relationship in a dog’s eyes.  The dream situation is shattered when Katie decides to adopt another dog named Duke (Eric Stonestreet), a much bigger dog that is fiercely territorial and has no interest in sharing Katie.  As the two tussle over superiority, they wind up lost in the city and now must find their way back before they are apprehended by animal control or a band of human-hating animals known as The Flushed Pets, led by a maniacal bunny named Snowball (Kevin Hart).  Fortunately Max has the help of a nearby neighbor named Gidget (Jenny Slate), a fluffy canine who will stop at nothing to locate Max before it’s too late.

As a family film, there is plenty to enjoy throughout this adventure.  The interactions between the pets is pretty fun.  Louis C.K. gives so much personality to Max and has a perfect voice for a dog, if one were able to talk of course.  There’s also hamsters, snakes, birds, squirrels, etc.  They seem to understand each other’s place in the world and enjoy conversing with one another, but eventually their instincts kick in with predictable, but hilarious results.  The other standout performance is Kevin Hart as Snowball.  I’m not a fan of Hart, but as a bunny I think his brand of humor works well in this film.  The directors give him carte blanche with regard to the dialogue, which could have been overwhelmingly annoying.  It not only fit the character, it also enhanced the overall subplot of the abandoned, forgotten pets of New York City and also made it entertaining.  The other side characters, such as Gidget and Tiberius (Albert Brooks), a dangerous pet hawk that struggles to stifle his desire to eat every pet he sees, have their moments as well.

As with any animated film, there is always the risk of losing balance between a good, compelling story and its humor.  Sometimes it’s weighed down by an overabundance of drama and no humor to pull you back up, or it is so silly that when it finally tries to tug at your heartstrings you have no reaction and lose interest in the rest of the film.  The Secret Life of Pets is closer to the latter, but doesn’t lose you completely.  It’s a very silly story that really stretches the imagination with what animals are capable of doing.  Granted they are secretly intelligent in their own way, but with as much as they do in this movie you wonder how they haven’t asserted more independence from the human population.  Also for emphasizing a so-called secret life in the title, these animals do most of their outrageous scenes in full view of humans and in broad daylight.  It’s not something I’m holding against this movie since it is an animated, family film.  So it gets a modicum of leeway in the silliness department.  After all this is the same studio that made Despicable Me and The Lorax.  If I were to rank these three properties, I would put The Secret Life of Pets right in the middle.

The Secret Life of Pets is an enjoyable, worthwhile film and I anticipate a nice turnout from families and pet owners alike at the theater.  Louis C.K. hasn’t gotten much luck achieving leading man status, but he does a pretty fine job with leading dog status.  Jenny Slate is always charming and her humor is a welcome addition to this ensemble performance.  Albert Brooks once again shows he has terrific, comedic chops in the sky as well as underwater.  Eric Stonestreet does a good job as well and his chemistry with Louis C.K. is pleasant.  You can’t escape Kevin Hart’s humor throughout the film.  Snowball is an unhinged, vengeful bunny with the cutest evil plan for taking down the humans.  While I didn’t quite connect with the characters emotionally, the story does engage you and the visual imagery combined with the humor makes it an overall satisfying experience.  Unlike the film Zootopia, where there are more original stories you can explore in that world, I’m not excited for a sequel to The Secret Life of Pets. It feels somewhat familiar in beats to Madagascar and those penguins, except it replaces zoo animals with pets and they actually enjoy confinement.  Hopefully the strength of the characters can improve the story going forward, but until then just remember to look after your pets and know they love you, especially if you remember to feed them.


About The Secret Life of Pets

Synopsis: Max is a spoiled terrier who enjoys a comfortable life in a New York building until his owner adopts Duke, a giant and unruly canine. During their walk outside, they encounter a group of ferocious alley cats and wind up in a truck that’s bound for the pound. Luckily, a rebellious rabbit named Snowball swoops in to save the doggy duo from captivity. In exchange, Snowball demands that Max and Duke join his gang of abandoned pets on a mission against the humans who’ve done them wrong.

Directors: Chris Renaud, Yarrow Cheney

Writers: Ken Daurio, Brian Lynch, Cinco Paul

Stars: Jenny Slate, Kevin Hart, Ellie Kemper, Albert Brooks, Lake Bell, Eric Stonestreet, Tara Strong, Louis C.K., Jim Cummings, Steve Coogan, Dana Carvey, Hannibal Buress, Bobby Moynihan, Lori Alan, Laraine Newman

Rated: PG

Runtime: 1 Hour, 30 Minutes

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