The Secret Life of Pets is a charming premise that’s all about shedding some light onto our pet’s daily lives and showing us that world. Most of the time – but more on that later. Most people can agree on, and even find common ground in, their love of pets, so we all imagine our furry friends as more than just animals, even sometimes that they’re real people, albeit of the four-legged or winged variety, but with their own social lives etc.
That’s where Max (Louis C.K) comes in as our main character and the beloved pet of his bubbly owner Katie (Ellie Kemper). He has pet friends all over their apartment building like Chloe the obese cat (Lake Bell), Mel the pug (Bobby Moynihan), a chill dachshund named Buddy (Hannibal Buress), and Gidget (Jenny Slate), a white Pomeranian with a bit of crush on Max.
But one day Katie rescues another, bigger dog named Duke (Eric Stonestreet) and Max’s comfortable life is flipped upside down. The two begin a humorous, if not a bit mean-spirited, struggle for alpha dog supremacy that accidentally sees them both on the streets in a dangerous, mad dash to find their way back to Katie.
The premise and marketing for The Secret Life of Pets was brilliant and it’s a shame that they were all a bit misleading. The cute little segments showing dogs rocking out or getting back scratches from egg-beaters are almost all spoiled in the trailers and don’t quite convey the tone of the film.
Once the “adventure” truly starts in earnest, the film takes on an oddly dark tone. Max and Duke find themselves wrapped up with the “The Flushed Pets” of the sewer, led by angry bunny Snowball (Kevin Hart) with a hatred for mankind. Hart does a lot of his trademark yelling, and exasperated rage, but it doesn’t cover up the scary monsters from his crew that are truly murderous, terrifying characters. There’s also a few ominous conversations of death and abandonment that were a bit jarring for a light-hearted kids’ movie about cute pets.
Thankfully, this segment of the film is only the middle part, and the opening and ending acts are quite fun and will have families and pet owners laughing and nodding their heads as they see their own little friends within the characters on-screen. All of the animal interactions in the building are hilarious and adorable and the group of pet friends truly care for each other, giving the film a nice central heart.
The voice cast all do extremely good work, especially Jenny Slate who steals the show as the adoring, loyal Gidget. Lake Bell also brings some tremendous sarcastic sass as the one truly pessimistic character in group. Making a rare appearance is Dana Carvey doing an old man voice for Pops, an elderly Basset Hound, that has some of the best one-liners in the movie. But there’s also plenty of fun visual gags whenever the pets decide to gather.
The Secret Life of Pets moves at a fast pace, while also delivering some really colorful visuals of New York City. Some of those include some stomach-turning (in a fun roller coaster way) first person shots in 3D, that will have you grabbing the arm rests of your seats. There’s even a musical number near the end that adults will recognize and kids will no doubt be singing on the way out of the theater.
While the middle portion of The Secret Life of Pets loses some steam and a lot of the film’s fun factor, it thankfully all comes back together enough by the end. Kids will love the pets and adults will enjoy the talented voice cast and eye-popping visuals in this good, but not great effort from Illumination Entertainment and Universal Pictures.
There's plenty of cuteness and excellent visuals to entertain both kids and adults, but an unexpectedly creepy middle portion of the film knocks the momentum off track making for a good, but not great family film.