A movie about what pets do during the day is a winning premise, and The Secret Life of Pets explores those possibilities. Turns out their days are much more dramatic and crazier than ours, with all sorts of underworld pet societies and warring animal factions.
The Secret Life of Pets comes from animation studio Illumination Entertainment, the home of those ubiquitous Minions, who are featured in a short film before the feature. Pets is helmed by directors Chris Renaud (Despicable Me) and Yarrow Cheney.
If you’ve ever wanted to know what your pets think when a new one joins the flock, according to The Secret Life of Pets, it’s not anything good. The hero here is Manhattan mutt Max (Louis C.K.), blissfully in love with his owner, Katie (Ellie Kemper). It’s a perfect partnership until she brings home shaggy stray Duke (Eric Stonestreet), and three becomes a crowd. Locked in a rivalry for top dog, Max and Duke become separated from their pack during a walk and end up on a crazy adventure that takes them through the sewers, across the river to Brooklyn, and back again.
One of the more intriguing herds they encounter is the revolutionary group of “flushed pets,” creatures that have been abandoned or otherwise disposed of and have banded together against humankind. They are led by the adorable fluffy bunny despot Snowball, voiced hilariously by Kevin Hart, spouting street gangster rebellion rhetoric while flashing cute, huge rabbit eyes that will give you whiplash from the cognitive dissonance.
Also entertaining is the lovestruck ball of fluff that is the Pomeranian Gidget, voiced by Jenny Slate. When Max, her crush, goes missing, Gidget is on the case, enlisting the help of the other pets in the building: Mel the pug (Bobby Moynihan), Buddy the dachshund (Hannibal Buress), Chloe the cat (Lake Bell) and Tiberius the falcon (Albert Brooks). Gidget, who will not rest until Max gets home safe, taps into her tougher side, surprising herself and her pals.
The Secret Life of Pets is definitely cute and definitely funny, and it draws on the universal experience of pet ownership to draw out the “awww” in all of us. But the film butt-scoots by on its premise. There’s not much going on, thematically or emotionally. We know the pets love their owners and vice versa, and there are some sweet moments that illustrate how a pet can be a life buddy. There’s some pathos wrung from Max and Duke’s sibling rivalry that turns into an alliance under pressure, but there aren’t any touching or original messages to dish out. It’s a fun summer flick for kids that parents will enjoy too, a worthy choice for any summer afternoon — if you’ve already seen Finding Dory.
‘The Secret Life of Pets’
Rated PG for action and some rude humor. 1:30. Fayete Mall, Frankfort, Georgetown, Hamburg, Nicholasville, Richmond, Winchester, Woodhill.