Plot: Max is living the canine dream, adopted by a loving owner who showers him with affections and treats. But even so, he wonders why she leaves and what she does while she is out, though her absence does allow Max to have his own adventures. When the humans leave, the pets all meet up and hang out, with Max’s friends including furball Gidget and overweight cat Chloe. While his life is quite good, he is about to discover his plush lifestyle is about to shared with someone else. His owner has brought home Duke, a massive dog she adopted from the pound. Max and Duke clash from the start, trying to push each other out of the spotlight, but then Duke takes things over the line and tries to abandon Max during a walking session. An encounter with the dog catchers leads them to meet the flushed pets, a squad of abandoned animals who fight back against their human oppressors. But even with Max’s friends organizing a search party, will he and Duke ever make it back home again?
Entertainment Value: An animated combination of the odd couple and a road movie, The Secret Life of Pets offers a slapstick, brisk adventure. As you’d expect from the team behind Despicable Me and the Minions, the movie is less than subtle with the humor, but it does have some humorous references that adults will appreciate. But for the most part, this is designed with short attention spans in mind, with an unrelenting pace and one physical gag after another. A lot of the jokes wind up repeated, with someone falling or getting bounced around, but there’s also some effective sequences and of course, most kids don’t care if jokes are reused. So for young audiences, the humor should land and the pace is so brisk, if one gag falls flat, another arrives shortly. I did appreciate all the attention to detail of pet behavior, most of which is bound to elicit a laugh from pet owners. I think it was a wise choice to embrace those pet elements, as some animated films just gloss over those kind of details. In the end, the sheer volume of humor means it is bound to hit the mark sooner or later.
The cast also ensures the humor lands, often even when it shouldn’t. The talent involved includes Louis C.K., Lake Bell, Ellie Kemper, Kevin Hart, Eric Stonestreet, Jenny Slate, Steve Coogan, Albert Brooks, Dana Carvey, Hannibal Burress, and others, so it is quite an impressive roster. C.K. and Stonestreet have the technical leads, but Hart tends to steal the scenes he is, due to the contrast between his loud, abrasive voice and the cute, innocent look of Snowball. I do think he turns the volume up a little too much and forces the jokes too hard, but people seem to like his humor, so I’m sure it works for most folks who watch this. All in all, a more than solid cast that seems to run with the premise and turn in mostly fun performances. The animation itself is remarkable, with all the various animals well designed, from fluffball Chloe to the hairless cat in the alley, all of the characters look quite cool. So The Secret Life of Pets winds up as a fun watch, though it feels so driven to appease the short attention spans of audiences, that is never lets the jokes breathe. If you’re a fan of animated features or love animal stories, this one is worth a look.