Title: The Secret Life of Pets
Describe This Movie In One Simpsons Quote:
Homer: "Two bucks to win on number eight. [sobbing] And have you seen my beloved dog?"
Rating Using Random Objects Related To The Film: Three pooper scoopers out of five.
Brief Plot Synopsis: Domesticated animals escape homes, are miraculously not hit by cars.
Tagline: "Ever wonder what your pets do when you're not home?"
Better Tagline: "Dogs and cats living together...mass hysteria."
Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Max (Louis C.K.) enjoys the privileged life of a Manhattan terrier, pining every day for the return of his owner, Katie (Ellie Kemper). Until, that is, she brings home Duke (Eric Stonestreet), who the movie's press notes claim is a Newfoundland but who in reality looks like a cross between Sweetums from Sesame Street and a sasquatch. Max, understandably upset, attempts to get rid of Duke, but only succeeds in delivering them both into the clutches of Snowball (Kevin Hart), leader of a gang of abandoned pets. Owing to their obvious incompetence, it's up to their pet friends, led by Gidget (Jenny Slate), a Pomeranian with a crush on Max, to come to their inevitable rescue.
"Critical" Analysis: The question posed by The Secret Life of Pets is supposed to conjure whimsical images of your house animals engaging in playful shenanigans while you're pissing your life away at work. The first act of the movie highlights this, giving us such memorable scenes as a dachshund getting friendly with a stand mixer and a parakeet with a fondness for HD fighter jet videos.
The reality, of course, is infinitely more depressing. Your pets spend the bulk of their day the same way you probably would if you didn't have somewhere else to be: sitting on their ass. The monotony might be broken up by barking at passing squirrels or the arrival of the mail carrier, but your dog's or cat's existence is pretty much just as boring as yours, only minus the soul-crushing existential angst.
The Secret Life of Pets could have done something exciting by taking the concept in unpredictable directions. Unfortunately, the forces behind it are old Illumination Entertainment hands like Chris Renaud and Brian Lynch, who barely break from formula (aside: The Minions short before the movie really demonstrates just how stale those banana loafs have gotten). Aside from a perpetual party at one absentee owner's home and an admittedly hilarious fantasy sequence set in a sausage factory, it's mostly uninspiring.
What's more, the jokes are obvious (and largely seen already in the trailer). What's that, you say? The snooty French poodle is into System of a Down? The seemingly timid Pomeranian is a secret badass? My medication!
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Which doesn't mean it's not entirely enjoyable. Max is kind of a jerk, and so is Louis C.K., which makes his casting an excellent choice. Slate is never not good, and Hart's usually annoying shtick works well shoved into an otherwise adorable rabbit. Albert Brooks also gives Idris Elba a run for the "most cartoon speaking roles in 2016" title as Tiberius, the hawk with predatory instinct control issues. Plus, it's basically Toy Story with domesticated animals; if you have to steal, steal from the best.
There are even a few attempts to plumb more serious matters, such as finding out what happened to Duke's old owner, but these never deliver, aside from making kids cry, which is apparently the main lesson Illumination pulled from all those Pixar movies.
The Secret Life of Pets doesn't particularly stand out in a year that's already stuffed to the gills with animated movies. It's perfectly acceptable escape-the-summer-heat entertainment, but is unlikely to take long-term hold of children's imaginations. Still, if nothing else, it's better than Finding Dory.
Ask A Six-Year-Old:
Me: "What do you think [our dog] does at home when we're not around?"
6YO: "Sleeps a lot. And farts, probably."