Review: ‘The Secret Life Of Pets’ Is A Joytaining Experience

This Friday, Illumination Entertainments newest release, The Secret Life of Pets asks the question, ‘What happens while pets are at home during their owners workday?’ The Secret Life Of Pets takes a very sweet, fun, and profound look at not only what it means to be a pet but also a pet owner. There is a hidden heart in this film that resonates well after the final credits, and the popcorn buckets are thrown away. After week after week of Hollywood regurgitation, it’s refreshing that we finally get an original concept that’s done extremely well.

We start off being introduced to a terrier named Max (voiced by Louis C.K.) and his owner Katie (Ellie Kemper), who like the vast majority of pet owners has a heart full of love for her furbabies. Max loves her equally and lives for the moment each day when she walks in from work. However, one day, Max receives the shock of a lifetime when Katie brings home a stray named Duke (voiced by Eric Stonestreet) to live with them as well. While Max looks like your typical dog, Duke appears to be a cross between a muppet and an elephant on steroids. Well, predictably these two begin to get on each other’s nerves, and their fighting leads to both being locked out of their apartment. Out of their friendly surroundings, Max and Duke are left to fight off feral cats and persistent animal control employees.

However, nothing could prepare these two wayward dogs for their encounter with a ruthless bunny named Snowball (voiced by Kevin Hart), leader of the Flushed Pets gang. After some persuasion on Max and Duke’s part, Snowball takes them underground to the world flushed pets so that they can join their group. They go into a sewer seemingly infested with sea monkeys, snakes, and other animals that have been flushed or forgotten by their previous owners. While this is transpiring, a white Pomeranian named Gidget (voiced by Jenny Slate) who has deep feelings for Max is organizing a search party to find her lost love. She’s able to recruit a red hawk named Tiberius (Voiced by Albert Brooks), who seems more interested in eating her than helping in the search and a half paralyzed basset hound (voiced by Dana Carvey).

The Secret Life Of PetsWhat was striking about this film was just how much humor was seemingly at the disposal of screen writers Cinco Paul, Ken Daurio, and Bryan Lynch, every time a new animal was introduced into the narrative. They effortlessly wove in lines silly lines like the Sea Monkeys proclaiming “it’s not their fault they were flushed down the toilet .. they don’t look like the package” with poignant moments about the power of love between animals and humans. The Secret Life Of Pets isn’t your typical Illumination film that relies on cheap gags ( which can be funny in moderation), this movie is written with the appropriate balance and has both humor and purpose.Director Chris Renaud goes to great lengths to ensure neither is lost for the duration by keeping the film on an appropriately brisk pace.

Another appealing element to the movie was Renaud’s approach to the animation. Unlike his previous four stints as director (he’s directed every animated feature for Illumination), decided to tell the action sequences from the pets’ point of view. The result were moments captured that made the audience feel they were traveling right next to Max as he raced away from animal control. My favorite part in the film was when Max and Duke were being accosted by the feral cats and Max gets shot upward through the clothes line. Instead having the camera follow him up the building as he flew up towards the top, they set the shot above the dog, and you just see him getting closer and closer to the camera. These types of shots give a unique perspective to the audience as well as a unique approach to both an action and an animated cinematography.

However, what sticks out most of all in The Secret Life Of Pets are the incredible performances the actors gave in voicing their roles. Jenny Slate is outstanding as the love-struck Gidget and Kevin Hart as Snowball will have you laughing so hard that your stomach will hurt. Louis CK and Eric Stonestreet have a real chemistry that is reminiscent of what Tom Hanks and Tim Allen had in Toy Story. It wasn’t difficult to pick up on the sheer joy these actors had in voicing their roles.

The Secret Life Of Pets is the best film Illumination Entertainment has ever made. The narrative is both balanced and constructed beautifully, which will appeal to both children and adults equally. Visually, it’s easily superior to The Good Dinosaur, but the narrative doesn’t eclipse Toy Story. Musically, Alexandre Desplat’s upbeat jazzy numbers add another level of enjoyment to the film.

Overall, it was hard to come up with a word to describe this picture, so let’s find a invent a new one. Hmmm… how about Joytaining? Joytaining is when something brings out such joy and is entertaining as well. I think our new word sums up The Secret Life Of Pets beautifully.

Dewey Singleton - Film Critic
Dewey Singleton - Film Critic
I'm a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association and have been doing reviews for many years. My views on film are often heard in markets such as Atlanta, Houston, and satellite radio. My wife often tolerates my obsession for all things film related and two sons are at an age now where 'Trolls' is way cooler than dad. Follow me on twitter @mrsingleton.