Manhattan menagerie has wild adventure in fetching family flick
The Secret Life of Pets
Starring the voices of Louis C.K., Eric Stonestreet, Lake Bell, Kevin Hart & Jenny Slate
Directed by Chris Renauld & Yarrow Cheney
Like Toy Story did with playthings, this wildly imaginative animated family flick—from the makers of Despicable Me and Minions—starts with a very simple premise: What do our domesticated animals do when we’re away?
Quite a lot, it turns out!
In a Manhattan high-rise, we’re quickly introduced to Max, a well-groomed Jack Russell terrier (voiced by Louis C.K.); Chloe, the tubby tabby cat next door (Lake Bell); and Gidget (Jenny Slate), a prissy puffball of a Pomeranian down the street who has a crush on Max.
Max’s walking buddies include Buddy, a slinky dachshund (Hannibal Burress), and Mel, a squirrel-obsessed pug (Bobby Moynihan).
Things are sailing along fine for Max until his owner brings home a second pet, a big, slobbery, rescue-dog mongrel named Duke (Eric Stonestreet). Max and Duke don’t get along, and soon they’re in a real doggie dilemma, rounded up by Animal Rescue without their collars or tags—and about to begin an even bigger, wilder adventure.
This involves even more colorful characters, including a Snowball, a gonzo white rabbit (Kevin Hart), leader of an underground activist group called the Flushed Pets—animals who’ve been “thrown away by our owners; now we’re out for revenge!” There’s Tiberius, a rooftop hawk (Albert Brooks) comically torn between his longing for companionship and hard-wired predatory instincts. Pops (Dana Carvey), an elderly basset hound, may be paralyzed in his back legs—but he sure knows how to get around town!
Director Chris Renauld, whose resume includes the Despicable Me franchise and The Lorax, and co-director Yarrow Cheney, a former production designer and animator, keep the jokes flying fast and funny and the plot moving at a brisk, lively trot as Max and Duke try to make their way home. Things get especially hairy when Snowball’s subterranean army—a motley crew of critters, from alligators, turtles and snakes to cats, a tattooed pig and “Sea Monkeys”—turns against them when they find out they’re really “domesticated” and not truly “liberated.”
There’s a chaotic traffic-jam cliffhanger on a New York City bridge, with a bus driven by a Max and Snowball (“You drive like an animal!”). In one dream sequence, hot dogs dance to “We Go Together,” the “rama lama lama ding dong” song from Grease. A poodle rocks out to heavy metal the second his owner is out the door. One tiny pooch, with a camera atop his head, films funny cat videos and uploads then to a Times Square jumbotron.
It’s all great, clever, whimsical fun, with a heartwarming, cuddly overlay of friendship and “family.” You may not (or may!) have a dog or cat as adventurous as Max, Duke, Gidget, Chloe, Buddy and Mel, but just about anyone can relate to the montage at the end of the movie—when all the pets exuberantly welcome their owners home to the tune of Al Green’s “Lovely Day.”
Any pet owner knows, and it’s no secret: That display of loyalty, love and affection from a pet—no matter where they’ve been or what they’ve done—makes it a positively lovely day, indeed.
—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine