The Secret Life of Pets

Posted on July 7, 2016 at 5:50 pm

Copyright 2016 Illumination
Copyright 2016 Illumination

Most of us probably think — or wish — that our pets are like Max (voice of Louis CK) in “The Secret Life of Pets” who lives with Katie (Ellie Kempner). “I’ve got big plans,” he tells his neighbor Gidget (Jenny Slate). “I’m going to sit here by the door and wait for Katie to come home.”

But we know better. We’ve come home to inexplicable disarray and disappearance. And in this cute romp filled with colorful characters we get to find out about the parties, the mischief, and the adventures and misadventures our furry and reptilian best buddies get up to when we’re off at work or out with friends. There’s an odd sourness to the story and it gets lost when the animals leave their homes, but the premise, the animation and the and outstanding voice performances make it worth seeing, if not right for the littlest kids.

The story is uncomfortably close to the original “Toy Story.” Max is Woody, the reliable, loyal, loved and loving star of the show who is not at all happy when a new rival (huge, furry Duke as Buzz Lightyear) comes to live with him and Katie. Just as in “Toy Story” Max and Duke end up away from home and in trouble. But in this case, the scenes outside of the apartment are not as intriguing and the adventures, well-staged as a matter of mechanics, do little to enhance the story. Max and Duke meet up with a gang of “flushed pets,” abandoned animals (does this sound like “Toy Story 3?”) led by Snowball, a tiny, fluffy white bunny hilariously voiced by Kevin Hart. Pursued by Snowball and the dogcatchers, Duke and Max have to find a way to get home before Katie gets back.

Individual moments are very funny, even joyous, but the storyline wavers in tone, with references to killing owners, a supposed hero whose motivation has to be a crush rather than friendship or honor, a sad offscreen death that is unearned, unnecessary, and distracting, and a disability that is played for humor. The motive and resolution for the villain are unsatisfying, and the best jokes are directed at the adults in the audience. Our furry friends deserve better, and so do we.

Parents should know that this film has extended peril and action, references to killing humans and animals, a sad offscreen death, disabilities portrayed as humorous, and some potty humor.

Family discussion: What does your pet do when you are away? Which do you like better, dogs or cats? Why didn’t Max like Duke?

If you like this, try: “Zootopia” (also featuring Jenny Slate) and the “Toy Story” films

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3D Animation Talking animals
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