Is your pet a party animal? In Illumination Entertainment’s The Secret Life of Pets furry family members spend their downtime between walks, treats, and sleeping in comfy beds inviting their pals in similar positions over for parties. They also have apparently learned how to give themselves massages using kitchen appliances and wile away the hours while their owners are at work by staring out windows and occasionally barking, protecting the neighborhood from pesky squirrels and other critters who populate suburban neighborhoods.
The PG animated film provides plenty of laughs while following the adventures of a select group of neighborhood pets, but it also reinforces the important message that adopting a pet is a lifelong commitment. Pets are not disposable and shouldn’t be tossed aside when they’re no longer cute, small, or convenient, and in The Secret Life of Pets breaking that rule of pet ownership has created a gang of marauding animals who hate people. Led by Snowball the bunny (voiced by Kevin Hart), the former pets dwell in the New York underground where they plot their revolution against humans.
On the other side of town, Max (Louis C.K.), a lovable terrier mix who’s owned by Katie (Ellie Kemper), would never voluntarily run away from home. He loves his life and his furry friends, and simply adores his Katie. But his calm, orderly life is thrown into chaos when Katie brings home Duke (Eric Stonestreet), a huge, hairy stray who Katie thinks will keep Max company while she’s at work. Duke and Max are immediately at odds over who rules the roost, and after a particularly bad day at the dog park, Max and Duke find themselves needing Snowball’s help escaping the dog catcher. They convince the psycho bunny they’ve also been tossed aside by humans and are welcomed into the underground lair of discarded dogs, cats, rats, birds, bunnies, lizards, snakes, alligators, and sea monkeys. Yes, sea monkeys. It doesn’t take long before the Army of Flushed Pets figures out that Max and Duke aren’t rebel material and the chase is on across New York as the lost dogs attempt to find their way back to Katie, with Snowball and his gang in close pursuit.
The Secret Life of Pets has a sweetness to it that’s not overly saccharine, and it plays just as well for dog lovers as it does for those into cats (or birds, guinea pigs, or rabbits). The voice cast is outstanding, with Louis C.K. and Eric Stonestreet leading the pack as Max and Duke, the new brothers who are forced into working together and who – of course – form a close bond by the end of the film. Kevin Hart’s Snowball is a wise-cracking ball of energy and fur, and his timing is perfect, lending the character the right balance of craziness and cuteness. Nearly stealing the film is Jenny Slate as Gidget the Pomeranian, an adorable ball of fur who is addicted to telenovelas and is secretly madly in love with Max. Other standouts in the voice cast include Bobby Moynihan lending his voice to a goofy pug named Mel; Hannibal Buress providing the voice for Buddy, a first-rate party animal dachshund; Lake Bell as Chloe, a fat cat with an inexhaustible appetite who is Max’s closest confidante; Albert Brooks who takes on the role of a red-tailed hawk forced into curbing his appetite in order to assist with the rescue of Max and Duke; and Chris Renaud as the voice of a perpetually lost guinea pig named Norman.
The central theme of responsible pet ownership is coated with enough laughs and thrills to make it go down easy. The lesson’s especially important for the younger audience, but adults will be reminded of the commitment necessary to provide pets with furever homes.
The animation, as is always the case with Illumination Entertainment’s films, is stunning and even in 3-D the colors remained vibrant and fairly sprang off the screen. And, there’s enough humor aimed at adults to make the film one that will keep audiences of all ages engaged for the 90-minute running time.
The Secret Life of Pets is a fun look at the world as viewed through the eyes of our pets. Anyone who’s ever shared their life with an animal should be left feeling all warm and fuzzy and with the urge to go home and hug their furry family member.
Directed By: Chris Renaud and Yarrow Cheney
MPAA Rating: PG for action and some rude humor
Running Time: 90 minutes
Release Date: July 8, 2016