The Secret Life of Pets (PG) ★★★½

“The Secret Life of Pets” is a Pet Lovers Delight

Jameson the French Bully, searches for puppy videos while his parents are working. Photo Credit: Erica Nolda

The Secret Life of Pets is an amusing, animated tale that centers on the curiosity of what pets do and think about all day while their owners are not around. The answer can be quite a lot as the same creative team behind Despicable Me (2010) unveils a delightful summer movie that should appeal to the whole family and boasts a fun cast of actors voicing a large crew of lovable animals.

Still from ‘The Secret Life of Pets’ Photo Credit: Universal Pictures

*Update! *Important note to our viewers on “The Secret Life of Pets.” We are now strongly suggesting and will be adding to our review that children be at least 10-years-old. Read more at the end of this review.

The story begins with an adorable Jack Russell Terrier named Max, voiced by comedian, Louis C.K. (Trumbo, 2015) who lives a happy, comfortable life with his owner Katie (Ellie Kemper, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, 2016), in a New York apartment building.  Every day when Katie heads to work, Max will spend hours staring at the door until she returns but also kills time by visiting with other pet friends in the building, including a Dachshund named Buddy (Hannibal Buress, Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, 2016), a Pug named Mel (Bobby Moynihan, Sisters, 2015), a lazy, fat cat named Chloe (Lake Bell, Million Dollar Arm, 2014) and a Pomeranian named Gidget (Jenny Slate, The Obvious Child, 2015) who harbors a secret crush on Max.

Jameson The French Bull Dog poses for National Pet Day. Photo Credit: Erica Nolda.
Jameson The French Bull Dog practices his poses  for National Pet Day. Photo Credit: Erica Nolda.

While Max enjoys visiting his friends, the best part of his day is still undoubtedly when Katie comes home from work. One day, when she returns, Max is horrified to find out that Katie is not alone and introduces Max to his new “brother,” a massive Newfoundland named Duke (Eric Stonestreet, Modern Family, 2016). Max, who is very possessive of Katie, does not take kindly to the change in the living situation and lets Katie know his feelings (although she only hears him barking). Duke, who initially tried to befriend Max, overhears this attempt to get rid of him and responds by throwing his weight around literally – pushing Max from his bed and eating all his food. The two continue to quarrel at the dog park the next day and their feuding causes both dogs to lose their collars and become separated from their aloof dog walker. To make matters worse, they have a run-in with an army of stray alley cats, then two workers from Animal Control and finally a band of wild animals calling themselves the “Flushed Pets.” The gang is led by a violent white bunny, Snowball (Kevin Hart, Ride Along 2, 2016) who is plotting against the humans that rejected them as pets. Meanwhile back at the apartment building, Gidget, who has a crush on Max, notices that Max and Duke did not come back from the walk and convinces the rest of the pets at the apartment building to go looking for their friend. The rest of the story is based on whether Max and Duke can work together to return to their home and friends while avoiding Animal Control and the army of “Flushed Pets.”

Both kids and adults will appreciate the movie’s humor as it brings to life all of the quirks and mannerisms of the different pets as well as their personalities. Often times, the writers play with an audience’s expectations for an animal, such as the ruthless bunny Snowball or the French Poodle that likes to head-bang to hard rock. The animation is excellent as well, particularly the animation team’s job at showing a colorful New York City as its canvas. The team can depict the city as one big playground for the pets in the film while using vibrant colors to illuminate the cityscapes.

The voice over work is well-cast too, especially Louis C.K. as the loyal Max, Ellie Kemper as the generous owner and Jenny Slate as Max’s pining love interest. The few drawbacks to the movie are that the story is a little light and the majority of the laughs come from gags that may not work as well on a second viewing, but that shouldn’t deter families from taking their kids to see this movie.

Bottom Line: The Secret Life of Pets is an enjoyable summer family flick with vibrant visuals and tons of gags. Anyone who has ever had a pet will definitely enjoy and shake their head in agreement with each quip. Those who’ve never owned a pet will probably wonder what they missed out on.

Credits: Directed by Christopher Renaud and Yarrow Cheney: Written by Brian Lynch, Cinco Paul, Ken Daurio

Cast: Louis C.K. (Max), Eric Stonestreet, (Duke), Kevin Hart (Snowball), Steve Coogan (Ozone), Ellie Kemper (Katie), Bobby Moynihan (Mel), Lake Bell (Chloe), Dana Carvey (Pops), Hannibal Buress (Buddy), Jenny Slate (Gidget), and Albert Brooks (Tiberius)

Studio: Universal Pictures

Running Time: 91 minutes

*Update: The sewer scenes talk of killing and violence. They show killing a snake and an initiation that includes being bitten by a snake. Not to mention the ‘flushed away pets’ talk about killing their owners. Yikes! Our film critic Erika Olson is not taking her 5-year-old child to see this film. Sarah’s Backstage Pass has always prided ourselves on being the leading force in championing age appropriate films, and especially when impressionable young children are targeted. Clearly, this film (animated) cartoonish film, is targeted to the Saturday morning kids crowd. Don’t get this wrong; I still loved it, but must be honest with you and give you my opinion when considering the welfare of our youngsters.

Jessica Aymond © July 6, 2016