“Wonder what they do all day?” That’s the great advertising line for Illumination’s latest animated feature, The Secret Life of Pets — and as a pet owner, you probably are better off not knowing. But this irresistible confection will be too hard for families to avoid, especially kids, who will lap this all up. I did, even though it goes way overboard in the second half, much like Pixar’s Finding Dory, the movie it easily will displace at the top of the boxoffice charts this weekend.
But like Dory, the frenetic action-movie elements that take hold once the plot revs up are completely overcome by the terrific character animation and those “pets” you will come to love. In fact the film’s first half or so is just a complete delight, and anyone who a) loves pets, b) loves comedy and c) loves a great toon will be rewarded with a movie from the creators of Despicable Me and Minions that delivers exactly what it promises.
The star of this enterprise is Max (voiced by Louis C.K.), a lovable and friendly terrier who lives the idyllic life with his human Katie. That is until a humongous rescue dog named Duke (Eric Stonestreet) invades his turf and causes all sorts of trouble in their apartment while Katie is away. Eventually they really get into a mess when they find themselves adrift on the streets of NYC, with evil dog catchers are on their tail. This chase leads them into an underground world of orphaned animals of all kinds, led by a diabolical bunny rabbit named Snowball (Kevin Hart). As I say in my video review (click the link above to watch), this carrot-chomping creature makes Scarface’s Tony Montana look like a Boy Scout. Hart, in his first animated feature, plays this bunny for all it’s worth.
His cohorts are pretty terrifying as well, so Max knows this is not a safe place to be, leading to various escapes and chases along the way. But it will take help to get back home, and Max has a faithful community helping him out at various times including a hawk (Albert Brooks) with a nice sense of direction, a British alley cat (Steve Coogan) and especially a very old but wise basset hound (Dana Carvey) who might not be too nimble on his legs but still knows his stuff. A love-struck Pomeranian (Jenny Slate) also plays a key role in trying to guarantee a happy ending. The voice cast could not be better and also includes Lake Bell as a lazy cat and Bobby Moynihan as an overly enthusiastic pug dog, among others. A heavy metal-loving poodle named Leonard has to be my favorite, even though he says nothing. But he can really rock out.
Chris Renaud and co-director Yarrow Cheney keep the action and laughs coming at a frantic pace throughout, though sometimes you wish they didn’t play so faithfully to the perceived short attention spans of the youngest members of the audience. Screenwriters Cinco Paul, Ken Daurio and Brian Lynch keep the gags coming. The movie is produced by Illumination honcho Chris Meledandri and Janet Healy. A special shout-out goes to Alexandre Desplat’s clever and melodious score. Universal releases Secret of Life of Pets today and once again will be raking in the cash thanks to the inspired minds at Illumination, which also provides a manic, Minions-starring short called Mower Madness that precedes the feature.
Do you plan to see The Secret Life of Pets? Let us know what you think.