By Laurie Coker
As evidenced by viral photos and videos of animal antics, pets do the craziest things. Silly cats and dogs can bring a smile to even the sourest faces. The Secret Lives of Pets, a new film from the creators of the Minion movies, Illumination Entertainment and Universal Pictures, offers some cute, albeit farfetched behaviors of dogs, birds and cats while their owners are away. Had the creators kept to the frolics of house pets within comic reason, then The Secret Lives of Pets would be a far better film, but over the top adventures and strange creatures make it falter, as does a limited storyline and poorly fleshed out themes.
Max (Louis C.K.) enjoys life with this owner in his one pet home, waiting patiently for his person to return each day. One day, his life is turned upside down when his owner brings home Duke (Eric Stonestreet), a huge shaggy sheepdoggy mutt, who completely disrupts Max’s simple world and life. After a mishap sends them out to the streets, they encounter “flushed” former pets, pent on exacting revenge on humans for disposing of them. Max and Duke manage to make a fast enemy of Snowball (voiced by Kevin Hart) a bitter bunny that leads the madcap crew of misfit animals – crocodiles, snakes, ferrets, turtles and many others. Between Snowball’s gang and dogcatchers, Max and Duke have their paws full with trying to find their way home. Meanwhile, Chloe (Lake Bell), a formidable portly cat and Gidget (Jenny Slate) a pretty puffball puppy, discover that Max is missing and they enlist a falcon (Albert Brooks) and other pets in the neighborhood to find their friend.
The voice talent comprised mostly of comedians is excellent and they garner many chuckles. The story, however, loses its way multiple times. It is a buddy tale on its surface, but creators never quite manage to rise above clichés and a seeming desire to create action where none is needed. Not to mention the fact that pets in their natural environments offers a plethora of satirical pranks and semi-realistic silliness. I lost focus when things went from fun pet stuff to wild, unrealistic events in any animal universe. Like Finding Dory, out earlier this summer, The Secret Life of Pets goes beyond what most consider reasonable into absolutely absurd.
Still, the kids love it and as noted, there are some genuine laughs delivered by gifted comedians – Lake Bell drolly delivering some of the best lines as an overweight, grey tabby cat. My guest “critics” ranging in age from 5 to 79 (the birthday girl) seem to really enjoy it. I agreed with my friend (age 62) who likened the action sequences to those made famous by Wiley Coyote – all occurring for no particular reason and in no truly logical order – many death defying. It is just a string of often funny nonsense played out to the joy of youngsters and the giggles of parents.
As much as I like animals, having two dogs, three cats and a parrot myself, I am all about peeking in on the “secret life” of pets. I am certain our domesticated companions do more than we can imagine while we are away. I did like many aspects of The Secret Life of Pets, but I think its creators miss out on an opportunity to really have fun with what pets actually do – like eating sofas, missing leaps from spot to spot, slamming into things and generally being entertaining animals. The comedic agility of this voice cast afforded the film enough talent to keep in at an average entertainment level, so I am placing a C+ in my grade book.