by Alan Yudman
What do your pets do while you are off at work. I mean other than chewing the occasional shoe or scratching the corner of your sofa. That cannot be their entire day. If THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS is any indication, they live a much funnier life than any of us.
The film from Illumination Studios (the same people who brought us DESPICABLE ME and MINIONS) focuses on Max. A nondescript yet adorable dog who is living a happy existence with his owner Katie. While she is at work, Max and is dog, cat, bird and other varieties of house pets meet, eat and frolic until it is time for their owners to come home. These sequences in the film are really funny because they give voice to what the thoughts you assume your pets are thinking. Then Max’s world is turned upside down. Katie brings home another dog from the pound, a big hairy oaf of a dog named Duke.
The two have a bit of a turf war, trying to gain dominance. Duke wins initially, but Max asserts his authority by playing mind games with the lummox. A dog walker takes Max, Duke and friends out one day and loses track of the new “brothers”. That is where the movie really takes off. Max and Duke try to get home. Max’s friends try to find him, including a Pomeranian (I think) who loves Max from afar.
While on the run, Max and Duke meet up with an underground society of “flushed away” pets led by a maniacal rabbit tossed away by a magician. They lie to gain acceptance then are found out as “house pets” and are forced to run and try to find another way back home.
Does THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS have deep meaning or a powerful message? No. There is some light theme about family and acceptance but unlike a Pixar movie that is beside the point here. The point here is laughs. Lots of laughs. Grab your stomach, bend over at the waist, big and loud laughs. The movie is about 90 minutes long and builds from chuckle to uproarious with hardly a pause to catch your breath. Yes the jokes are sometimes obvious and telegraphed, but that does not make them less funny.
The voice cast is outstanding. Louis CK brings his unique personality to Max. Eric Stonestreet is Duke. Jenny Slate goes from sweet to ferocious as Max’s secret admirer Pomeranian Gidget. There is a lot of other great talent, including Albert Brooks as a hawk trying not to eat everyone. But the bright shining light here should be on Kevin Hart who voices the maniac Bunny. Hart’s over the top delivery and wild personality are perfect. You cannot help but laugh every time the Bunny opens its mouth. It is comic genius.
I was afraid all the laughs in THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS were in the trailer. No no, that is just the beginning, the jumping off point for one of the funniest movies I have seen in a long time.