Secret Life of Pets: What Cats and Dogs and Lizards Do When Human Owners Are Not Around

the_secret_life_of_pets_1The premise of the new animation, The Secret Life of Pets, is simple, even obvious, but quite charming and entertaining.

Every owner of pets, be they cats or dogs or pigs, must have wondered at some point, what his/her creatures are doing when they go to work, or leave their homes—even for a short time.

the_secret_life_of_pets_2On the surface, the daily existence of domestic animals might seem ordinary and mundane. The evidence: when we get back to our homes they are so well behaved, greeting us with a nice welcome.  But what do they do all day long–in our absence, when they have the entire space to themselves?

Directed by Chris Renaud (Despicable Me) and Yarrow Cheney as a fluffy but not silly comedy-adventure, Secret Life of Pets imagines quite vividly the craziest, scariest, and most bizarre shenanigans and mishaps that occur when we are gone. For example, we watch a poodle head-banging to heavy metal, or a dachshund using an electric mixer as a scratching device.

The large number of diverse critters is a major plus for such a film. In addition to cats and dogs, the usual animals in such tales, there are also  miscellaneous hamsters, snakes, rabbits, lizards, and alligators, all adding lively details to the plot. The necessarily fractured and episodic tale is an attribute that will help keep very young viewers attentive.

The central plot line revolves around a terrier named Max (voiced by Louis C.K.), who lives the stable and sweet life in Manhattan with his loving owner Katie (Ellie Kemper). When she’s gone to work, he hangs with a posse of friends, including Pomeranian love interest Gidget (Jenny Slate), guinea pig Norman (Renaud), and chubby kitty Chloe (Lake Bell).

the_secret_life_of_pets_4His reality gets shattered, when Katie brings home an oversized mutt named Duke (Eric Stonestreet), whom Max deems “the death of all good things.”

There is a funny scene in which pooches go at each other to the delight of other pets who watch through the windows of their New York apartment.

Soon, however, the duo are on their own when they run afoul of freakish feline Ozone (Steve Coogan) and Snowball (Kevin Hart), a cute and very psychotic bunny who detests any “scent of domestication” and heads up an underground movement to defeat mankind.

The way home for Max and Duke involves avoiding pesky animal-control guys, hopping a ferry to Brooklyn and enjoying a fantasy at a sausage factory.

the_secret_life_of_pets_5Though the plot is always busy, the story meanders in spots, when Max’s pals get embroiled in the chaos, but manages to end on a strong note, bearing a positive humanistic message, when the two figure out they’re not just man’s best friend but also each other’s.

And one should also single out the hawk Tiberius (Albert Brooks), who is in great need of a mission, and Pops (Dana Carvey), as an aging basset hound on wheels.

the_secret_life_of_pets_6The screenplay by Cinco Paul, Ken Daurio and Brian Lynch (Minions) is consistently clever and often witty in recording the conduct and misconduct of these beasts under varying conditions. Thus, when the pigs hijack cars, routine situations get out of control, resulting in massive chaos.  The movie has some darker an somber scenes, especially it depicts Snowball’s scary crew in the sewers.

It is to the credits of the filmmakers that even familiar jokes and visual gags about dog poop and rabbit droppings are funny and often smart. And they do not shy away from pathos and sentimentality, when they show how the creatures overcome differences–there is a coalition of abandoned animals called the Flushed Pets–and band together when a crisis situation calls for it.

the_secret_life_of_pets_posterSome of the creatures (and the actors who voice them) are especially entertaining, including Chloe the cat, who is expectedly but also winningly passive aggressive; Kevin Hart does a great job in voicing the deranged bunny Snowball, Louis C.K. is terrific as the pampered terrier mix Max, and Steve Coogan is highly diverting as Ozone, an alley cat with an attitude.

But make no mistakes: The pet owners are not the outright villains of the piece.  The movie does justice to both animals and humans in showing their mutual love, if not always cordial respect.  The two species depend on and mean a lot to each other.

If you like the animated series Toy Story, you will like this picture, which is sort of Toy Story with critters, with lots of furs and feathers in different shapes and colors.