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The Secret Life of Pets movie review: dogs and cats living together…

by MaryAnn Johanson

The Secret Life of Pets green light

Charming. A cleverly constructed and amusingly rendered fantasy adventure that sings with a sweet, wistful devotion to home, family, and friendship.tweet
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

What do our pets do all day while we’re at work or school? Mostly sleep, probably. Unless you have a Bad Dog or a Bad Cat, in which case the torn-up sofas and puddles of vomit you return to are already pulling back the curtain of mystery on their daily doings. So best consider the charming The Secret Life of Pets more an animated fantasy than a documentary, in case you were in any doubt.

The comfortable life of terrier Max (the voice of Louis C.K.: Trumbo, American Hustle), who considers himself the “luckiest dog in New York” thanks to his person Katie (the voice of Ellie Kemper: Sex Tape, They Came Together), is thrown into disarray when she brings home his “new brother,” Duke (the voice of Eric Stonestreet: The Loft, Identity Thief), a large, shambling, clumsy sheepdoggy creature. Comedy of disaster ensues when their competition for the spot of top dog in the household results in them being separated from their inattentive afternoon human dog-walker and lost in the Big City. Their adventures along the path back home are cleverly constructed and amusingly renderedtweet by a team of mostly Despicable Me/Minions vets — codirectors Chris Renaud and Yarrow Cheney, screenwriters Ken Daurio, Brian Lynch, and Cinco Paul — and breathe with the same wacky inventiveness of the Minions. (Pets is preceded, in fact, by a new Minions short that is much more successful than their recent feature film.)

Visually, Pets is gorgeous, giving us a small animal’s perspective on the Big City, all looming skyscrapers in the distance and cosy apartment houses up close, as well as some wonderfully silly Looney Tunes-esque cartoon shenanigans. But it’s the wistfulness of Max’s longing to get home to Katie that makes the movie sing with sweetness, as does the devotion to get him home displayed by Max’s friends, other neighborhood pets such as Gidget the fluffball handbag dog (the voice of Jenny Slate [Zootopia, Obvious Child], who just about steals the show), and Chloe the cat (the voice of Lake Bell: No Escape, Man Up).

Pets is pure joytweet, unencumbered by anything of import greater than a gentle message to take care of our companion animals: the putative villain of the piece, discarded magician’s bunny Snowball (the voice of Kevin Hart: Ride Along 2, Get Hard), is nowhere near as evil as he thinks he is; he’s just crushed by his abandonment and lashing out because of it. The laser-sharp focus on home, family, and friendship to the exclusion of all else seems the perfect evocation of how our pets might feel.

green light 4 stars

The Secret Life of Pets (2016)
US/Canada release date: Jul 08 2016 | UK release date: Jun 24 2016

MPAA: rated PG for action and some rude humor
BBFC: rated U (mild action, rude humour)

viewed in 2D
viewed at a public multiplex screening

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, you might want to reconsider.

  • Ryan Morris

    Words can’t describe how much I hated this film…

    I really appreciate what they were going for, but none of it came together for me. I thought the humour consistently fell flat, I found all of the characters extremely irritating and tough to root for, the plot is far too close to Toy Story to dismiss and it just never really ignites. I can’t help but wish it was more focused on what our pets do at home while we’re away, more potential there I feel….

  • I just realized the bunny from the trailer looks like Presto.

  • Jonathan Roth

    I enjoyed this much more than I thought I was going to. Gidget was definitely a highlight.

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