REVIEW: ‘Secret Life of Pets’ is furry, frantic fun

The Secret Life of Pets is a film audiences young and old who love their pets are sure to appreciate.

Yes, the level of entertainment certainly skews younger. Unlike many of the family-oriented animated films that come from Hollywood these days, Secret Life of Pets isn’t rife with grown-up targeted in-jokes.

Rather, the film stays focused on frantic action and silliness to keep audiences laughing and cooing at the cuteness. Does it work? Sure it does, or at least it should for the audience it’s out to entertain.

What’s it about?

The Secret Life of Pets brings audiences the story of Max (voiced by Louis C.K.), a terrier rescued as a puppy by his loving Manhattanite owner, Katie (Ellie Kemper). Max has a truly great life — his only real complaint in the world is that Katie leaves every day to do goodness knows what, leaving him sitting by the door waiting for her and missing her terribly.

That great life, however, takes a sharp left turn when Katie comes home one day with a “brother” for Max in the form of Duke (Eric Stonestreet, TV’s “Modern Family“), an huge, fluffy mess of a mutt who is all too happy to horn in on Max’s creature comforts.

It’s not long into their first day left alone together that things go awry, but not in the way either of the dogs expects. In very short order, they find themselves on Manhattan’s streets being chased by dog catchers and threatened by strays and militant “flushed pets” led by the furry but fierce ex-magic act bunny Snowball (Kevin Hart).

Help for the pair in getting home comes from other pets in their neighborhood led by Gidget (Jenny Slate, TV’s “Parks and Recreation“), a feisty pomeranian who secretly adores Max. High flying fights, car chases (yes, car chases with pets!), and general mayhem ensues as the day boils down to everyone just getting home safe and sound before the owners get home for dinner.

The Secret Life of Pets advance one-sheet

Stunning animation

What really stands out in The Secret Life of Pets is the quality of the animation. As the latest collaboration between Universal Pictures and Illumination Entertainment (the folks behind the Despicable Me and Minions movies), the film delivers all the madcap, frenetic cartoony action one might expect given the films that have come from the pairing before.

Where the film sets a whole new bar for Illumination productions is in its depictions of real life spaces, in particular the many different environs and landscapes of New York City. There’s a clear reverence for “The Big Apple” in every long shot featuring the city’s skyline, apartment buildings, and Central Park, one that should make any audience member that’s spent time in those places smile, and anyone’s who’s dreamed of visiting Manhattan keep dreaming.

Story keeps things simple

As for the characters running around on four legs and in some cases on wings in The Secret Life of Pets, their story is a pretty straightforward one. No doubt, the film’s plot and structure is reminiscent of earlier, more memorable animated features, in particular Disney’s Toy Story films. But the similarity is only superficial, as this film’s script does not aspire to the same sophistication and emotional range as the films it borrows from.

Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily — in fact, the difference will most likely be lost on the film’s true target audience. But for adults sitting in theaters with their kids to see The Secret Life of Pets, they’ll no doubt recognize that while it is entertaining and chuckle-worthy at times, it’s a far different breed than any Pixar film.

That’s not to say there’s nothing that’s particularly memorable here. Most of the funniest bits in The Secret Life of Pets are used in the film’s trailer, but there are still a few surprises in store. In particular, there are quite a few jokes at the expense of the film’s “fat cat” supporting character, Chloe (voiced by Lake Bell), and a truly bizarre doggy dream sequence involving talking, dancing sausages that has to been seen to be believed.

Worth seeing?

If you’re an animal lover or your kids are animal lovers, then yes, The Secret Life of Pets is 85 fun, silly minutes at the theater that you shouldn’t regret spending. Also, if you’re a fan of those loveably unintelligible Minions, there’s an all new Minions short film attached to the start of Secret Life of Pets that delivers quite a few laughs and should stand as further evidence that Minion stories are best when short.

The Secret Life of Pets

Starring the voices of Louis C.K., Eric Stonestreet, Kevin Hart, Jenny Slate, Ellie Kemper, Lake Bell, Dana Carvey, Hannibal Buress, Bobby Moynihan, Steve Coogan and Albert Brooks. Directed by Chris Renaud and Yarrow Cheney.
Running Time: 90 minutes
Rated PG for action and some rude humor.

Felix Albuerne
Felix Albuerne
One-time Blockbuster Video manager, textbook editor, trivia host, and community college English/Humanities teacher. Now a digital media producer, part-time film critic, amateur foodie, semi-retired beer snob, unabashed geek, and still very much a work in progress.