Director: Yarrow Cheney, Chris Renaud
Starring: Louis C.K., Eric Stonestreet, Kevin Hart, Jenny Slate, Dana Carvey, Albert Brooks, Lake Bell, Bobby Moynihan, Ellie Kemper, Hannibal Buress, Steve Coogan

Do you ever wonder what your pets are up to during the middle of the day when you are at work? Do you ever try to get into the mind of your fur baby and debate what they’re thinking as they stare out the window? The Secret Life of Pets tries to tackle this by setting our love bugs off on a wild adventure throughout New York City. Max (Louis C.K.) is a cute terrier who loves and adores his owner Katie (Kemper). He is very protective of her and eagerly awaits her to come back home every day. One day she comes home with a surprise when a new dog comes barreling through the door at the same time. Duke (Stonestreet) is a mutt and triple the size of Max and takes over his space. Max is not too pleased and instantly wants to remain the alpha dog of their apartment. Their relationship remains rocky and Duke leads Max astray while they are unleashed at a dog park. After a tussle with feral cats in an alley, the two of them are picked up by animal control. Max’s secret admirer Gidget (Slate), a fluffy Pomeranian, notices them missing when the neighborhood dogs come back without them and sets out to find and save her one true love.

The Secret Life of Pets is from Illumination Entertainment, the same studio behind Minions. There is a Minions short film that airs before it and there’s a cameo at the end scene. I mention that as a way to give some insight into the level of easy child entertainment that it winds up being. The script by Cinco Paul, Ken Daurio, and Bryan Lynch is a bit loose and wanders from one kitschy bit to the next without any strong sense of storytelling. It utilizes a lot of cheap laughs and multiple chase scenes with them running around the city to play into a young moviegoer’s attention span. A majority of the film has a very playful sensibility to it without having a deep meaning or subtext behind it. If it were Pixar or even Dreamworks Animation, I would expect better animation and a movie that tugs at the heartstrings. This is not that kind of movie as it doesn’t quite delve into that special bond between a pet and their owner. It does a bit when human characters are involved, but it’s rare, as the story would rather find them engaged in an adventure in the streets and sewers of the city.

Finding the right voice over actors for the characters can make or break an animated film. In theory the likes of Louis C.K., Eric Stonestreet, Kevin Hart, Jenny Slate, Albert Brooks, Lake Bell, Dana Carvey, and Bobby Moynihan sound like a dynamite cast. All have comedic chops in one form or another. Some like Bell, Carvey, Slalte, and Brooks are no strangers at the task at hand. This is probably why they are better than others. Jenny Slate is a complete joy at playing the lovable Gidget. She’s obsessed with Spanish telenovela and the passion for those characters is what drives her character to find Max. Louis C.K. does a fine job with the loyal Max. He doesn’t quite do anything different than his typical style, but it works. On the opposite end of the spectrum for me are Eric Stonestreet and Kevin Hart. There’s something about Stonestreet’s choices that just didn’t seem to fit the larger than life Duke. He does funny work on Modern Family but does very generic work here. Hart is even louder and more obnoxious here as a not-so-fluffy bunny that lives in the sewer. I get that he amped it up for an animated character, but it’s even larger than what Eddie Murphy does in Shrek. I’m sure kids will find him funny as I’m assuming they’ve never seen any of his live action movies.

Any pet owner will relate to the “stereotypes” played up in the movie with cats thinking they’re better than dogs, dogs chasing tennis balls around, and cats playing with laser pointers. Humans are also stereotyped with the idea of owners who look like their pets, and of course, the old lady cat hoarder makes an appearance. Animal control is used as a villain in the movie with their treatment of animals. It’s this generic approach that permeates throughout the movie. There is nothing all that groundbreaking or original. It’s at its sweetest when the pets are interacting with the humans, which are the scenes that bookend the movie. There are plenty of online videos with dogs and cats running amok and getting in all sorts of trouble. I would have liked this movie to stay more indoors and to play with that concept. There are cutesy moments like when a wiener dog gets a massage from a Kitchen Aid mixer, but they are few and far between throughout the 90-minute movie. It was almost a disservice to just see them go on an adventure in the streets and sewers.

At the most basic level, The Secret Life of Pets moderately does its job of being an animated flick that will appeal and entertain kids. In this day and age of animation when Pixar, Disney, and Dreamworks continually knock it out of the ballpark others need to step up their game and take it to the next level. You can’t just play it safe and call it a day. A movie about pets and their owners could have been the sweetest and cuddliest movie this summer, but it’s not.

Is It Worth Your Trip to the Movies? Little kids will enjoy it, and adults will have a few chuckles with it.


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