Purely for entertainment value, The Secret Life of Pets is a hit for the kiddoes, a 90-minute festive and free-spirited film that becomes increasingly ludicrous as the time goes on but, then again, what would you really expect from a film centered around the secret life of pets?
If you're expecting Pixar-like insights and intelligence, you'll be disappointed by this effort from the team behind the Despicable Me films. If you're tempted to forget that Despicable Me connection, you'll be reminded by the Minions short that precedes the film (As an acknowledged Minions lover, I was gleeful!).
However, if you're a fan of Minions-like silliness and well-paced, goofy fun with frequent touches of "aw shucks" sweetness then The Secret Life of Pets should be 90 minutes of entertaining and feel good animation.
The story centers around Max (Louis C.K.), a terrier taken into the home of Katie (Ellie Kemper). It's love at first sight. And second sight. And third sight. And fourth sight. And, well, you get the point. Max and Katie bond over the years, including over the seemingly interminable hours during which Katie's gone at work and Max is left to his own devices with neighborhood pets such as the not so secretly crushing Gidget (Jenny Slate), the neighborhood's fat cat Chloe (Lake Bell), a hilariously awesome bulldog (Bobby Moynihan) and others. Things are just heavenly until Katie brings home a "surprise," Duke (Eric Stonestreet), a big and burly rescue dog who quickly dominates the space.
For reasons that will be revealed, the neighborhood life quickly gives way to both Max and Duke being outside the neighborhood and in the company of Snowball, a wascally wabbit voiced by Kevin Hart with all the energy and attitude we've come to expect from Kevin Hart ... yes, it's true. Even as an animated character, Kevin Hart is typecast. Snowball is the leader of a sewer-based rebellion of abandoned pets ranging from the always suspected alligator to those sea monkeys ("It's not our fault we don't look like the picture!") to the crew's spiritual guru of sorts, a snake that will get through truth out of you even if he has to squeeze it out of you.
Don't worry, this is all PG-rated. Nothing scary actually happens here.
The vocal performances in The Secret Life of Pets are uniformly strong, led by Albert Brooks's second great vocal performance this year after Finding Dory's Marlin. Brooks's Tiberius, a hawk who can't quite decide between being homicidal and helpful, is inspired and hilarious. Dana Carvey is also terrific as a paralyzed beagle, complete with hind-leg wheelchair, who has all the neighborhood insights and connections. It's yet another positive portrayal of disability in the animated world - why can't Hollywood manage to do this in live-action motion pictures?
The Secret Life of Pets isn't a particularly brilliant motion picture, but it's a tremendously entertaining one with a terrific, breezy pace, an abundance of humor and a genuine heart even though its characters are a tad undercooked. I can easily see some clever soul doing some pet friendly screenings down the road because, in the end, The Secret Life of Pets is a celebration of the relationship between pets and their pet owners.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic