HOLLYWOOD—We are in the midst of a sort of golden age of animated films. How can we not count ourselves lucky that we live in a time where the intellectual, surrealist sci-fi of “The Congress” exists alongside the stunning beauty of Hayao Miyazaki and the wonderful charm of Pixar. It’s to this high standard that “The Secret Life of Pets” is held. Using this metric does it succeed? No, of course not. Is it a hilarious love letter to pets everywhere, and more importantly worth the ever more exorbitant price of admission? I venture that it is.
The story centers around lovable New York City apartment dog Max (voice of Louis C.K.). His life with his beloved owner is interrupted when she decides to bring home another dog, the lumbering Duke (voice of Eric Stonestreet). Through a series of comic catastrophes, the pooches find themselves lost on the wrong side of The Brooklyn Bridge. They struggle to find their way home as they are pursued by a group of anti-human revolutionaries led by the hilariously psychotic rabbit Snowball (voice of Kevin Hart), and a group of Max’s friends led by Gidget (voice of Jenny Slate), a quirky Pomeranian.
The story plays out in as predictable fashion as you would expect. It’s kind of a comedic “Homeward Bound.” All the requisite plot points of a standard kid’s adventure movie are met. It makes you wonder if all the writer’s energy went into the jokes, and the plot was something of an afterthought. It also suffers from a near fatal case of plotline to nowhere with a subplot centered around finding Duke’s former owner. In all honesty if it weren’t for the humor it would be pretty boring.
The thing is it does indeed have humor. The jokes play on all the suspicions we have about what goes on in our animals’ minds.
A great scene involves a jealous Max running into the bathroom while his owner is brushing her teeth to complain about Duke. To his owner’s eyes he looks like he just wants to play, when in fact he is complaining that Duke is “the death of all good things.”
What really saves it is when the comedic situations just get out of control. Snowball and Gidget provide the big laughs when they are at their craziest.
Trust me, seeing a Pomeranian glued to a telenovela or a rabbit joke about “hipster real estate trends” is pretty funny. I admit I cracked up during the scene where they dropped The Beastie Boys “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” on me.
You have to give it to the voice cast. They all played their roles well, but Slate and Hart knocked it out of the park. Don’t be surprised if your kid’s favorite character ends up being snowball due to Hart’s hysterical riffs.
It’s no “Up” or “Princess Mononoke” level masterpiece, but it’s a fun comedy with jokes for all ages. I say go for it.
By Mathew Foresta