Good Lord, I think this is the most anticipated movie --- EVER! Whomever David and I meet/talk to --- all everyone asks about is "The Secret Life of Pets". Well, thankfully, I can report that it is very sweet and funny --- perhaps not completely endearing, but good enough that you will want to round up the kids and get to a movie theater pronto.
Max (voiced by Louis C.K.), a brown-and-white Jack Russell Terrier, loves his life! He was adopted as a puppy by Katie (voiced by Ellie Kemper) and is supremely happy and content --- that is, until Katie brings home a new dog named Duke (voiced by Eric Stonestreet). She picked up this rather large, scruffy Newfoundland from a shelter where his days were numbered. Max is definitely not happy with the new arrangement, and after Katie leaves for work the next day, the trouble begins.
Unless you've been living under a rock, everyone knows that the premise of "The Secret Life of Pets" revolves around what pets do all day when their owners are away. This particular day --- a very long one, indeed --- has Max and Duke getting chased by dogcatchers, tormented by a cult of abandoned pets known as "The Flushed Pets", who want to kill all humans, and a daring rescue by Gidget (voiced by Jenny Slate), a white fluff ball Pomeranian, and the rest of Max's home turf gang.
And yes, I did state "kill" which is where "The Secret Life of Pets" takes a weird turn. I realize that stupid and cruel people discard family pets of all types every ay --- and it is despicable. But actually calling for the outright slaughter of these criminals in a children's movie is perhaps not the best way to expose them. Most likely, this call-to-action will go over most kids' heads, but it still is a tad unsettling.
I found the scenes in the sewers with The Flushed Pets and Max and Duke nearly drowning in the Hudson River pretty frightening, especially for the wee ones. The motley pet crew is led by a seemingly cuddly white rabbit named Snowball (voiced by Kevin hart), who is truly a maniacal nut job. The screenplay is written by Cinco Paul, Ken Daurio and Brian Lynch, and one has to wonder if any of these guys has small children? Yikes!
In the end, "The Secret Life of Pets" is what all people hope for --- a happy ending. I predict that this production by Illumination Entertainment, the group also responsible for the "Despicable Me" franchise, will be a huge success, but the best animated film thus far this year remains "Zootopia".
Opinion: See It Now!
This eagerly-awaited film about cats and dogs and other domestic animals that rule our lives has some inspired moments. However, "The Secret Life of Pets" is only sporadically funny. While it often captures the idiosyncrasies that animals exhibit --- the welcome routine of dogs when a master walks through the door, for one --- the movie goes off course much of the time when house pets clash with four-legged street gangs.
The celebrity voices are many, from Louis C.K. and Eric Stonestreet, to Kevin Hart and Albert Brooks, plus Dana Carvey, Bobby Moynihan, Steve Coogan, Lake Bell and Ellie Kemper. Some characters in the movie are a bit scary for little ones --- the fearsome hawk Tiberius (Brooks), for example --- while Hart's tough-guy rabbit Snowball may deter kids from demanding a bunny at Easter time as a pet.
"The Secret Life of Pets" is not in the same class as other animation standouts this year, most notably "Zootopia" and "The Jungle Book". It is top-heavy with "Despicable Me" contributors, including co-directors Chris Renaud and Yarrow Cheney, plus a trio of writers. That's not necessarily a bad thing given the success of that franchise, but inherent in the "Despicable" films is some mean-spirited activity which finds its way into this movie.
The best part of "The Secret Life of Pets" comes at the very end. That's when we see dogs, cats, a bird, a fish and a turtle reacting to the appearance of their owners returning after perhaps a full day of work. The mutual love and companionship is captured in a way that all pet lovers can identify with ---even Snowball's demeanor changes drastically when he is shown a little affection.
Despite its shortcomings, "The Secret Life of Pets" boasts terrific animation, and the soundtrack by the superb Alexandre Desplats is just that --- superb.
Opinion: Wait for DVD