Universal Pictures 90 minutes PG
The antics of pets when their owners aren’t looking gives everyone something to laugh at and relate to whether you have a pet or not. If you’ve ever wondered what they do when you’re not home, The Secret Life of Pets shows the whole gamut of funny bad habits, imbedded in a sometimes frantic adventure.. With Louis C.K.,Eric Stonestreet as Duke and Kevin Hart how could Directors Yarrow Cheney and Chris Renaud lose? They directed the Illumination Animation Despicable Me films and keep the pets hopping in this one. The film opens on a glorious visual of Manhattan, where the pets we’re about to meet live in the same apartment building.
It’s a series of bits that are often a throwback to scenes you’ve scene in old cartoons, like being caught by the city dog catcher. There are even some scary animals looking like they’re about to eat the good guys, but that didn’t bother even the littlest ones in our screening. There were plenty of contagious giggles coming from the kids for harrowing chase scenes through back alleys, sausage factories, and even on the Brooklyn Bridge.
Max is a happy-go-lucky terrier voiced by Louis C.K. and owned by Katie, played by Ellie Kemper (Bridesmaids, 21 Jump Street). She brings Max a “big brother” named Duke, voiced by Eric Stonestreet. He’s a huge Newfoundland mutt, 3 times the size of Max, and they become territorial enemies.
Max and Duke duke it out to get Katie’s attention by getting each other in trouble. One day, with the dog walkers the park, Duke tricks Max into getting separated and they’re off on the biggest adventure of their lives. During the chase, Max and Duke get picked up by Animal Control. Max misses his old life with Katie and his fun furry friends and neighbor pets.
They include Mel, the Pug, played by Bobby Moynihan (SNL) who says he truly identified with his character because they both have short little legs. Chloe, the huge cat who loves to raid the fridge and does not apologize for taking up space in the world, is right up Lake Bell’s alley. She plays a fat cat who is totally into cat power. It’s all about Chloe. Doing voiceover, to Bell, is “hugely liberating and kind of like the most ultimate version of acting.” We actually saw “In A World…” with her a couple of years ago which she wrote,directed and starred in about the voiceover business. She was even more expressive than when solo in a booth.
Buddy is the chill dachshund played by Hannibal Buress who just goes with the flow. His way of getting a massage is with a kitchen mixer. That made us laugh. Sweet Pea, voiced by Tara Strong, is a cute parakeet that uses the TV and an electric fan to simulate a flying spin class when her owner is absent.
And Gidget is the beautiful white Pomeranian who has a secret crush on Max. Jenny Slate has just the right squeaky voice for this character and the animators did a great job expressing her emotions with eyes fluttering those eyelashes. Slate loves that Gidget is a passionate pooch who wears her heart on her paw. Cute character. When Max goes missing, she rallies their pet friends to find him, no matter what. She gets, grumpy old hawk, Tiberius (Albert Brooks) and Pops, an old paralyzed basset hound (Dana Carvey) to help her find Max.
Eric Stonestreet had never done voiceover for animation. He says it reminded him of being a child again with nothing but imagination to create his portrayal of Duke. He says seeing the finished product felt like an amusement park ride that’s a “full on adventurous New York City day” with a Dog Catcher’s truck, ending up at a sausage factory, in back alleys with seedy alley cats and in the sewers of New York. The alley cat scenes are brilliant with cats flying like Cirque du Soleil trapeze artists through laundry ropes strung high between buildings.
They meet their match in Snowball, played by Kevin Hart. Hart had not done voice for animation before either, but says this was the perfect edgy part for him “Because I can’t just do anything. My voice is too tough.” Snowball looks so cute and fluffy and then that voice comes out. That, in itself, is funny, Kevin laughs proudly, “Snowball not afraid of anything. Snowball is one lean mean carrot chewing machine.” Snowball wants to beat the domesticated pets into submission He plays the cutest, meanest bunny of all time and the leader of a pet revolution with his own seedy under-the-street gang, who chase Max and Duke through New York and the sewers.
Is this worth your bucks? There’s a lot of action and it gets pretty scary with a big, ugly snake and more yucky characters in the sewers, but there are some funny moments. And all’s well that ends well. Domesticated and otherwise, these colorful characters eventually become friends, so, although it drags a little in the middle, don’t be afraid to take the kids.
This is not as well animated and put together as a Disney/Pixar film, nor as smart as the Despicable Me movies, but the animation colorful and the variety of animals and their habits will keep your interest. Just know that you probably won’t see any secrets of pets you don’t already know.