“What would Dory do?” It’s a question Dory (Ellen DeGeneres)…
“The Secret Life of Pets” claims to answer the age old question, “what does my pet do when I’m away?” The film is directed by Yarrow Cheney and Chris Renaud of “Despicable Me” fame. In this go-round, the two somehow end up evoking the spirit of Pixar’s “Toy Story.”
We’re introduced to a well-loved pup named Max (Louis C.K.) and his owner Katie (Ellie Kemper) after a sweeping intro featuring the New York City skyline. We also meet all the critters living in and near Max’s apartment building, including Max’s aspiring love-interest, Gidget (Jenny Slate), a Pomeranian hooked on love and telenovelas.
Soon Katie brings home a new “brother” for Max, in the form of an enormous, brown, drooling dog named Duke (Eric Stonestreet). The two despise each other from the get-go, with Max trying to get Duke sent back to the dog pound. Duke is no dummy. He cleverly lures Max out of the dog park one day, but gets the two of them captured by NYC’s Animal Control.
When their escape from the dogcatcher is arranged by a street-wise bunny named Snowball (Kevin Hart), they are taken into the dark sewers of New York where an underworld of animals called “The Flushed Pets” live in contempt of humans. Snowball and his gang of misfits turn on Max and Duke when they realize the duo are actually “leash lovers” and not the scrappy strays they purported to be.
Gidget, with the help of Max’s friends from the neighborhood, organizes to locate Max and bring him home safely. Blinded by love, she doesn’t seem to care about the fate of Duke. Meanwhile Max and Duke have bonded as they run for their lives, trying to escape Snowball’s evil plans for them.
“The Secret Life of Pets” doesn’t reveal many secrets. It does, however, maintain a rapid pace in a series of sometimes dark and menacing scenes where cute and not-so-cute animals are in great peril. The good guys and bad guys are at each others throats constantly and the action is intense.
However, there are also scenes of great promise, with Gidget and company pulling together and showing that persistence and heart shouldn’t be discounted.
And then there are giddy scenes like the one with Max and Duke breaking in to a sausage factory. They eat to their heart’s content and even have a hallucinatory dream of costumed sausages dancing gleefully to “We Go Together” from the film “Grease.”
“The Secret Life of Pets” isn’t quite an original film. It seems familiar, but in a fun way. The filmmakers keep up the pace and don’t allow the story to get bogged down. There are no heavy-handed messages about animal rights or anything like that. There is no overwrought commentary about animal culture. There are, however, a lot of fun moments strung together as Max and Duke try to get home.
The darkness of “The Secret Life of Pets” should not be overlooked. There is a scene where one animal dies after being crushed by a stack of bricks, and there are several scenes that are downright mean, if not vicious. If your child is sensitive to violence or constant peril, or if they are younger than 5 years-old, you should proceed with caution. Older kids and pet-owning adults will have a blast.
Animation, Rated PG
Run time: 90-minutes
Photo credit: Universal Pictures
This review also appears on GaysWithKids.com