Title: The Secret Life of Pets
Director: Chris Renaud and Yarrow Cheney (co-director)
Summary: A terrier named Max regularly invites his friends to hang out at his place while his owner is gone, but his quiet life is upended when said owner also takes in Duke, a stray mutt whom Max instantly dislikes.
It’s been a very mixed bag when it comes to animation this year. There have been two fabulous entries in the forms of Zootopia and Finding Dory, but there have also been terrible movies such as Angry Birds. This isn’t that uncommon since animation is usually targeted at kids and some people just don’t seem to understand how kids think and how to market to them. After Finding Dory I almost forgot about Secret Life of Pets until a friend mentioned that he wanted to come with me when I got the screening invite. The trailer looked cute but I wondered if there was anything else beyond the surface level of the “this is what pets do when we’re not home” joke.
The Secret Life of Pets is a very cute little movie that is funny enough for both parents and kids that everyone should walk out of the theater happy.
As I’ve often mentioned in the past there is a difference between a kids movie and a family movie. I also believe that making a movie geared toward children is not an excuse to be lazy but to try harder. I was quite pleased by Secret Life of Pets that it seemed to understand that being geared towards kids didn’t mean that adults in the audience couldn’t enjoy it, too. The best things about the movie are the little details. The writers and animators have truly captured the little things that cats, dogs and other pets do. There is a running joke among pet owners that dogs have no sense of time and will react the same whether you’re done for five minutes or five hours. The Secret Life of Pets acknowledges things like that and does it extremely well.
It is helped along by an absolutely fantastic voice cast. My favorite was Gidget (voice by Jenny Slate) a little fluffy white dog that reminded me so much of my own family dog that it made me laugh. Her voice was exactly how I pictured my dog would talk and her little mannerisms were amazing. I also loved Tiberius (voice by Albert Brooks) a pet Hawk who spends the entire movie doing the whole “friend not food” thing to hilarious results. The entire cast is great though and the duo of Max (voice by Louis C.K.) and Duke (voice by Eric Stonestreet) are the central part of the story and their growing friendship is believable. It makes sense that Max is threatened by this new dog that is suddenly in his life when he has been the center of his owners world for so long. The movie hinges on the two of them learning to like and trust each other and it works.
It’s not a perfect movie, unfortunately. The pacing felt a little off and when you strip away all of the funny little jokes it is basically Homeward Bound minus the cat and in New York. I also kept getting distracted by the fact that both of the dogs should have been microchipped and that there shouldn’t have been an issue with them getting home, but maybe that was me overthinking things. Snowball (voice by Kevin Hart) is one of those things that either works or doesn’t. I think kids are going to like seeing this cute little bunny who is actually homicidal, but I’m not sure Hart is the best at escaping his own personality. Sometimes I could only hear Kevin Hart talking instead of getting lost in this character.
The Secret Life of Pets is not the best animated movie of the year but it is on the higher end of the spectrum. I think that kids are going to go insane for it as they beg for a bunch of new toys, but there are also enough jokes that adults in the audience will walk away just as happy. It’s not great but it’s still very good.