The Secret Life of Pets (2016)
The Secret Life of Pets (2016)

Genre: Fairy Tale Running Time: 1 hr. 30 min.

Release Date: July 8th, 2016 MPAA Rating: PG

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

 


 

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hat happens to the pets of New York City when their owners leave their houses for the day? For most, their loyal companions engage in all manner of rambunctious misbehavior and boisterous antics, but for Katie’s (Ellie Kemper) terrier Max (Louis C.K.), each day is met with patient waiting for his beloved owner’s return. One fateful evening, Katie brings home a new dog, Duke (Eric Stonestreet), which turns Max’s world upside down. The large, shaggy brown newcomer quickly butts heads with Max, forcing the smaller pooch to devise a way to remain the alpha. His plan backfires after a disastrous trip to the park, in which Max and Duke firstly find themselves accosted by a band of mangy alley cats, secondly nabbed by animal control, and finally forced into joining an underground brotherhood of abandoned pets – led by maniacal cottontail Snowball (Kevin Hart). As their situation grows grimmer, Max’s friend Gidget (Jenny Slate) gathers together a motley gang of animals – including dachshund Buddy (Hannibal Buress), pug Mel (Bobby Moynihan), tabby cat Chloe (Lake Bell), and red-tailed hawk Tiberius (Albert Brooks) – to mount a daring rescue.

Like “101 Dalmatians,” “The Secret Life of Pets” is told from the perspective of anthropomorphized animals as they embark on an incredible journey. Oddly, though, the film doesn’t play by its own rules when it comes to how these creatures perceive humankind. At the start, the main gimmick is that the pets all manage to misbehave or rebel while their masters are away, yet Max is oblivious as to anything going on in his owner’s life – such as the unexplainable, unfathomable reason why she would leave every day during most of the daylight hours. Later, he states: “I don’t know any numbers,” when asked on which floor his apartment is situated. But that doesn’t stop nearly all of the other four-legged peers from fully comprehending the English language, reading signs or recognizing city borders, operating vehicles (including taxis and buses), and carving a key out of a carrot.

To counter this very human viewpoint – told through the story of lost pets – are a number of spot-on jokes about dog behaviors. With sequences demonstrating infatuations with balls, being motivated by food, chasing a laser toy, craving attention, and discovering easy distractions, all of the animals adopt classic, recognizable traits. Several laughs are even derived from anxiety urination, sniffing, scooting, territorial habits, and performing tricks. But, of course, the creatures are also fully aware of their own identities and egos, with an understanding for other species, cat vs. dog turf wars, soap opera themes, self control when it comes to carnivorism, mastery of the martial arts, and even romance. This leads to a rather sophisticated, highly unusual, tightlipped, underground assemblage of anti-human, anti-pet-status revolutionaries, like some sort of organized guerrilla warrior society that plans complex schemes for prison breaks and recruitment.

And, though that faction is governed by an unlikely yet shockingly villainous rabbit (one of the few characters modeled after a stuffed toy rather than a real animal, and one of the few roles whose cuddly design can’t overcome the conspicuous voicing, here by Kevin Hart), there’s still plenty of humor to combat the severity of a toothy viper; a traumatized, tattooed test-pig; an injuriously lonely bird of prey; or hushed reminiscences of past owners who may or may not care that their pet has disappeared. The film is rated PG for rude humor, but there’s also something notably dour about the cast of abused sewer-dwellers and their thirst for vengeance. A sausage-heaven daydream, uncanny dexterity, and creative maneuvering through the city are highlights, presented with a level of hilarity that hopes to match the attention to action sequences (and exceptional fur/texturing effects). Though it ought to be primarily a comedy, “The Secret Life of Pets” is certainly more thrillingly adventurous than laugh-out-loud funny.

– The Massie Twins

  • 5/10