The Secret Life of Pets: A Fluffy But Fun Family Movie

By Douglas Davidson

July 6, 2016

We all have our suspicions about what our sweet little pets, our Kaylee, Sadie, or Cami do when we leave for the day.  In their latest animated adventure, the studio minds behind the Minions posit that there’s an unknown underbelly just waiting to be scratched.

The Secret Life of Pets offers exactly what you expect from a summer kids’ movie – jokes, a hearty moral, and a happy ending. The story centers on Max (voiced by Louis C.K.) who is unhappy to find his life upended when his owner brings home a new pet, Duke (voiced by Eric Stonestreet). While working out their differences they find themselves being chased by, not only New York Animal Control, but also The Gang of Flushed Pets, a pet posse led by the human-hating, slightly insane rabbit Snowball (voiced by Kevin Hart). The cast is rounded out by a supporting cast of canines, felines, and avians voiced by such comedic talent as Jenny Slate, Lake Bell, Hannibal Buress, Dana Carvey, Steve Coogan, Bobby Moynihan, and Albert Brooks.

Courtesy of Universal Studios

It’s the rare children’s movie that offers unexpected surprises, that tugs at the heartstrings, and that entertains and delights children of all ages. The Secret Life of Pets, unfortunately, is not one of those films. That is not to say it isn’t entertaining and fun. Secret Life is a perfect kids’ movie; it’s light, silly, sweet, and contains no potential danger or disaster. Secret Life focuses on the importance of friendship, acceptance, and finding a home – all worthy lessons for children, but executed far better by Pixar and Disney.

Though it features an enormous cast of characters, the focus of the film is set between two conflicts: Max vs. Duke and Max and Duke vs. the Gang of Flushed Pets. Unfortunately, there is really only enough story here for a short film, which the film tries to cover with a subplot involving Max’s neighboring animals who go on their own adventure to save Max. The subplot provides some humorous moments, but, otherwise, the “rescue” storyline feels unnecessary to the main plot.

There are plenty of laughs for the adults, but the lion’s share are aimed at the pet-owners; those of us who have rescued (or been rescued) and those of us who have raised and loved any animal. This is a story, in many cases, about that bond and one I wish the film had really explored more through the eyes of Max and his friends instead of just touching the surface in favor of a popcorn experience (though there’s absolutely nothing wrong with popcorn).

Courtesy of Universal Studios

Where Secret Life excels is the depictions of the pets. Each animal is shown within their homes acting out their fantasies and desires as soon as their owners leave. This is maintained expertly throughout the film. Much like the animals Finding Nemo and Zootopia, the animals here are driven as much by their inherent animal attributes as they are by their personalities. Integrating natural behaviors into the characters through mannerisms and speech patterns creates the opportunity for delightful jokes (or in-jokes to the pet-owning audience) and adds some honesty to an animated story that displays some Looney Tunes-esque elements.

No animated tale these days can really succeed without some great voice work and this cast is packed to the collar with talent. The aforementioned superstar comedians each utilize their unique gifts to bring the animated animals to life. Their vocals make each character engaging and complex, yet familiar, playing into the wonderful job the writers did in integrating the original animal personalities into the characters.

Courtesy of Universal Studios

For those who like their movies to jump out at them (the screening I saw was in 3D), the colors popped and, occasionally, so did the screen. 3D adds very little to the experience, but it might be worth ponying up the extra cash at a matinee screening as a fun garnish for kids.

The Secret Life of Pets is a light-hearted, fun flick that, while puuuurfect for entertaining the 5-14 demographic for the entire 90-minute runtime, the whole family can enjoy.

Final Score:

4 out of 5 for the kids

3 out of 5 for the parents

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