The Secret Life of Pets deals with what happens when you leave your pets at home, and it fashions a playful and fun tale out of it. It’s not anything particularly ground-breaking, but it propels itself forward with such enjoyable momentum and with a lot of gags (most of which hit and land as they should) which means it is a good ride.
Max (Louis C.K.) is a spoiled terrier who enjoys a comfortable in a New York building with his owner Katie (Ellie Kemper). His happy world is knocked off its axis when she adopts Duke (Eric Stonestreet), a giant and unruly canine who quickly establishes himself as the alpha dog. During a walk outside, they come across a group of ferocious alley cats and wind up trapped in a truck bound for the pound. They manage to escape thanks to the help of the ‘Flushed Pets,’ a group led by a bunny named Snowbell (Kevin Hart), who recruits them in his mission against the humans who have done them wrong. When the truth comes out, Max and Duke find themselves relying on each other to make it home.
Before we reach the film, however, there is (very much in the style of Pixar) a bonus movie at the start. The Minions want to buy a blender, and decide to earn the money for it by doing some gardening at an old folks’ home – this, of course, does not go to plan. It’s the same sort of comic antics you would expect from anything involving the Minions, and your enjoyment level is pretty much decided by how funny you find the Minions to be.
Onto the film itself, and we have pretty much seen it all before (the only thing that shocked me was a scene in Duke’s backstory, where my expected emotional development happened a scene later). Having said that, when the journey is as fun as this one, that doesn’t really matter, but you wish sometimes that it would have slowed down a touch and developed its characters a bit more to make the emotional landings better.
The cast do a lot of the work, though. I’ve always liked Louie C.K., and his world-weary voice is an incredible fit for Max – his tone and delivery can do as much work as the gags do. He also makes a nice opposition to Stonestreet, the two working very well together throughout. All of the cast get their moments, and the characters’ personalities all shine through based on the voice work. I’ll highlight Jenny Slate, as a hyperactive Pomeranian who has a crush on Max, and Albert Brooks as a self-loathing hawk, but the real comic highlight is Kevin Hart. Hart plays Snowball, an adorable bunny who, combined with Hart’s fast-talking and unhinged delivery helps make the rabbit a terrifying adversary.
I should also pay service to the animation here – it is a charming movie to watch, due in no small part to how visually spectacular it is. A lot of the film is frantic chase sequences, and they are always stunning throughout. I also want to mention the sequence in which Max and Duke enter the sewer lair of the Flushed Pets – it may be a bit dark for younger viewers, but it is very visually impressive.
So where do we stand with The Secret Life of Pets? It is a competently done and enjoyable tale, often funny but not quite as resonant as some of its rivals. In a year that has seen Zootropolis, a film about animals that was as socially conscious and moving as it was funny, The Secret Life of Pets seems a bit of a stall. It is good, light-hearted and fun, but not much more than that.
Director: Yarrow Cheney, Chris Renaud
Cast: Louis C.K. (Max), Eric Stonestreet (Duke), Kevin Hart (Snowball), Jenny Slate (Gidget), Ellie Kemper (Katie), Albert Brooks (Tiberius)
Running Time: 90 Mins