At the Movies with Alan Gekko: The Secret Life of Pets “2016”

MPAA Rating: PG/ Genre: Animated Comedy/ Voices of: Louis C.K., Eric Stonestreet, Kevin Hart, Steve Coogan, Ellie Kemper, Bobby Moynihan, Lake Bell, Dana Carvey (!!), Hannibal Buress, Jenny Slate, Albert Brooks, Tara Strong, Chris Renaud/ Runtime: 98 minutes

Let’s be honest here everyone: 2016 really truly was an absolutely amazing year when it comes to family films. Indeed while most of the credit should, and undoubtedly did in fact, go to Disney for the epic Zootopia, the solid Finding Dory, and the immensely enjoyable Jungle Book, we must remember that indeed there were other studios out there that also had stories that they would like to tell in this genre of filmmaking. Now two of them have gotten their chance to do so, as Universal Studios and Illumination Entertainment aka the people behind the Despicable Me movies and the 2012 Lorax film have taken a Minions break to bring us the new animated movie The Secret Life of Pets. Indeed while it has the misfortune of being released around the same time as Finding Dory, this film is still worth a watch as thanks to a solid voice cast and premise and looking absolutely gorgeous this movie really delivers.

The plot is as follows: the movie focuses on a terrier named Max, voiced by Louis C.K., albeit I’ll forgive you if you think it’s Chris Pratt…believe me I certainly did, who is owned by a young woman named Katie (Ellie Kemper). Yet while the two truly do share a special bond, as a lot of people do with their pets, their bond however will soon finds itself being put to the test. A test in the form of Katie bringing home a “brother” for Max to spend time with when she’s not there. A “brother” which takes the form of Duke (Eric Stonestreet from Modern Family), an over-sized mutt who proceeds to throw a monkey wrench, intentionally or not, into the life that Max has worked so hard to create with Katie. So Max, feeling envious and also to move the plot along, decides he needs to get rid of this interloper once and for all, but Duke has no plans to return to the pound from which he came. Thus it isn’t long before the attempts by each to get rid of the other escalate to the point of almost all-out destroying Katie’s apartment and blaming the other for it until one day one of their collective plots to get rid of each other goes severely awry and soon the two enemies find themselves away from their friends and without their collars on which have Ellie’s contact info on them this manages to set no less than the pound on their furry behinds. Thus these two reluctant allies must work together to get back home (wow the parallels to the first Toy Story are staggering….. a task which gets a lot more intense when along the way, Max and Duke meet the Flushed Pets. This is a radical sect of former pets who now live on their own in the sewers and are busy plotting the overthrow of all human owners, and the leader of this little army is a cute little white bunny rabbit, appropriately named Snowball, who is amusingly voiced by Kevin Hart and I also feel like it has to be said that not since Monty Python and the Holy Grail has there ever been a more bloodthirsty bunny. Yet while all of this is going on with Max and Duke, we also witness Max’s group of friends, including the usual infatuated love-interest (Jenny Slate), with the help of a hawk (a delightful as always Albert Brooks) and a paralyzed but connected basset hound named Pops (a surprisingly enjoyable Dana Carvey) heading their own expedition to find him and bring him home…..

Now to be fair while the story in this film is fairly paint-by-the-numbers if not downright predictable in certain areas, I feel that what really truly makes The Secret Life of Pets as entertaining throughout as it is can be really attributed to the immensely enjoyable, funny, and just downright relatable cast of characters that we get to follow throughout the course of this film. I say this because honestly every single character in Pets really truly is a new, fun, and unique part of the story. Indeed the ensemble in this film is what will either make or break Pets for you as the sheer volume of characters in this is so massive that sometimes it feels like the solution to every script writing complication was “make a new pet.” And yet for the most part, it seriously works, as the characters are all fun, if mostly inconsequential, and the movie is smart enough to know which characters to keep around and at the same time which ones to get rid of because they know that five more minutes with these characters would have you as an audience member pulling your hair out in frustration.

Now on the surface while this movie is about two characters trying to find their way home as the old saying goes “it’s not the destination that matters, it’s the journey.” Suffice it to say then that this is a movie which certainly takes this to heart and runs with it as the destination often seems to get overlooked by most of the film in favor of wherever the journey has taken them. A factor which results in some completely random story tangents that aren’t there to do more than add a few jokes and pad the runtime although to be fair there IS a scene that pays tribute to a song from Grease in a way that once you see it trust me when I say you will most likely never forget it. Honestly though while this is a movie that doesn’t really fail at anything it does there are two criticisms that can be put against it and those consist of the facts that while this film does have humor, oh does it ever!, nearly all the good jokes go, unsurprisingly, to Kevin Hart’s Snowball which really doesn’t leave a whole lot for the rest of this talented cast to grab hold of and make their own. The other criticism would have to be the fact that while the animation in this film is actually pretty dang solid it’s a safe bet that you’ll only truly realize this on reflection as you most likely won’t notice this during the story. To be fair though neither of these are really major stumbling blocks and they absolutely will not be issues for the film’s target audience….

Speaking of kids though…..that is actually one of the more intriguing aspects of what the world of The Secret Life of Pets showcases. I say that because in all honesty there are almost no kids to be found in this movie. Indeed while only Max and Duke’s owner Female Andy ehhh Katie has a significant role among the humans in this world, one thing that is absolutely made clear is that all of our primary pet heroes are owned by adults without children, which thankfully means there’s never a joke about a kid who squeezes the cat too hard. In fact, most of the pets clearly live lives of luxury, because their owners spend their disposable income on their pets and not their kids and honestly I strongly feel that this is the secret behind the movie. This is because although this is a film which puts itself out there as a movie for kids and rightfully so this is also really I feel, at its heart and core, a love letter to all those people who see their pets and love their pets more as if they are their children rather than their pets…an idea which makes sense given that’s a large audience which also I don’t think has ever had an animated movie made for them before.

All in all though while The Secret Life of Pets may be destined, due to Disney’s domination at the box office in the year that this was first released, to be known as one of the “other” animated/ family movies of 2016 that really is too bad. I say this because if one were to take the time to give this a watch one will find that The Secret Life of Pets is a truly solid and enjoyable movie that is without a doubt just as much of a fun time to be had as anything Disney has released this year. On a scale of 1-5 I give The Secret Life of Pets a 3.5 out of 5.