It wasn’t my idea to rent The Secret Life of Pets.
My wife, on a whim, brought it home from a Redbox — she had a coupon for a free movie — and since we don’t watch too many movies together anymore because of our busy schedules, I made it a priority to sit down and be in front of the television while it played.
The trailers for the movie seemed uninspired, filled with tired jokes and boring sight gags. The premise — going behind the veil to see what our pets really do when we’re away — only a hair or two from Toy Story. I planned on doing other things while the movie played.
But let me tell you, I was in for a treat — The Secret Life of Pets isn’t half-bad or slightly bad. It’s actually pretty good — especially if you’re owned by a pet or two.
Max (Louis CK) is a Jack Russell terrier living with his owner Katie in New York. Affable and ever-so-loyal, Max absolutely loves Katie and spends his days hanging out with the apartment’s other pets when she’s away.
When Katie brings home a new dog, Duke, from the shelter — Max’s comfortable existence is flipped upside down having to accommodate a roommate who couldn’t be more opposite.
After Max sees an opportunity to get rid of his unwanted guest, the pair end up going on an adventure that will bond them together as they escape capture by the pound’s workers and take on a cadre of unwanted pets ready to wage war against all humans.
CK plays an average Max — it’s not so much a problem with CK’s voiceover abilities as it is Max’s general blandness — and Eric Stonestreet as Duke is pretty much on par for a giant disgruntled shaggy dog. Neither of the two leads are especially memorable for the first half of the film — they’re foils for each other in principle, and anyone can immediately understand the plight of both pets.
Thankfully, we’re given a larger group of colorful characters whose story runs in parallel as they search for their lost friends.
Jenny Slate’s Gidget is at-once adorable and gritty. The snow-white Pomeranian’s squeaky high-pitched voice belies a sense of determination — she rallies the apartment pets to search for missing Max — that makes her the true hero of the story.
Albert Brooks is wonderful as Tiberius, the hunting falcon desperate for friendship in spite of his urges to kill and eat, and Dana Carvey’s Pops has a gruff exterior that hides a lonely interior longing for his oft-absent owner.
But it’s Kevin Hart’s Snowball that really steals the show. Maniacal and venge-filled, the white rabbit leads a horde of unwanted pets from his sewer hideout. Once a magician’s rabbit, his abandonment has given him all the motivation he needs to concoct a conspiracy against all of humanity.
It’s over the top, cheeky, and a lot of fun, and the mayhem caused by a ragtag team of pets barreling through the crowded streets of Manhattan in a Post Office truck is one of the better chase scene than I’ve seen in years.
The Secret Life of Pets is a great movie for children and a delightful hour and a half for adults. What really gives it all the charm in the world is its tone — in essence, it’s a love letter to all the pet owners out there who’ve ever wondered what was happening back home during those work or school hours.
The Secret Life of Pets (2016)
Directed by: Chris Renaud and Yarrow Cheney
Screenplay by: Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio
Starring: Louis C.K., Eric Stonestreet, Kevin Hart, Jenny Slate, Ellie Kemper, Albert Brooks, Lake Bell, Dana Carvey, Hannibal Burress, Bobby Moynihan, Chris Renaud, Steve Coogan, Michael Beattie, Sandra Echeverría, and Jaime Camil