Possible spoilers ahead!
Over the last few years, I stopped watching animated movies. I couldn’t take the Pixar movies after “Up,” and even the “Despicable Me” series didn’t quite cut it for me. But for some reason, I thought this year’s “The Secret Life of Pets” looked pretty good and I finally saw it this past weekend.
“The Secret Life of Pets” follows the daily lives of pets living in a New York City apartment building. Well, that’s not really true. The movie only follows the pets for less than one day. I think they’re even home in time for dinner.
Anyways, the main character is a terrier named Max (Louis C.K.), who is living the dream life with his owner Katie. But when she brings home a stray from the pound named Duke (Eric Stonestreet), Max finds that his whole world has changed – prompting him to take steps to get Duke kicked out for good. However, Duke doesn’t go down without a fight and soon the two roommates find themselves lost – and being hunted by Animal Control.
Max and Duke manage to escape the human authorities with the help of “The Flushed Pets”: a group of pets that were abandoned by their owners and now live in the sewers of New York. They are led by an unhinged white bunny named Snowball (Kevin Hart). While Max and Duke team up to escape from Snowball’s “army,” Max’s next-door neighbor Gidget (a Pomeranian voiced by Jenny Slate), rallies the pets of Max’s apartment complex to join her on a mission to bring their friend home, safe and sound.
“The Secret Life of Pets” has a lot similarities with the original “Toy Story”: main characters not getting along, both getting lost outside their home, their friends trying to find them, etc. But believe it or not, I actually liked Secret Life better Than “Toys Story.” I didn’t think Secret Life was as preachy as “Toy Story” was, or as heavy-handed with the sentimental stuff.
Louis C.K. and Eric Stonestreet are well-cast as the voices of the domesticated Max and the slob Duke. Their clashing personalities created a fun dynamic between the two characters, a sort of odd-couple but with dogs.
But what I liked best was the secondary plot thread that revolved around Gidget leading the group of friends to rescue Max and Duke. Part of what made this so much fun was the fine voice work by the actors behind Max’s non-human friends: Gidget (Jenny Slate); pug Mel (Bobby Moynihan); dachshund Buddy (Hannibal Buress); parakeet Sweet Pea (Tara Strong); red-tailed hawk Tiberius; (Albert Brooks); Dana Carvey as the elderly basset hound Pops; and lovable fat cat Chloe (Lake Bell).
Each of these characters gets a moment to strut their stuff and steal a scene or two, but my absolute favorite character was Chloe. Probably because she reminded me of my wife’s cat who is also fat but lovable.
The film’s animation isn’t quite as visually sophisticated as some other studios, but “The Secret Life of Pets” does have some wonderful designed characters, each animal behaves like the real deal, which tells me the animators did their homework.
At the end of the day, “The Secret Life of Pets” doesn’t break new ground for animated movies. However, Secret Life is a consistently funny and touching movie that has something for young and older viewers.
“The Secret Life of Pets” final score: 8.5