“The Secret Life of Pets”: a fluffy, family friendly diversion

The Secret Life of Pets onesheet

Nutshell: Pets is absolutely adorable.  And it’s absolutely unbelievable.  But who needs a plot that makes sense when you’ve got talking animals?  Louis C.K., Kevin Hart, and Jenny Slate are hilarious voicing their pet counterparts.  The animation is lovely to look at, with lots of bright colors to wow the young’uns. This film doesn’t dig deep, but does every animated film need to be WALL*E?  With love, I say nay.  Grade: A-

“Be a good boy, Leonard.”

Yeah, I know you know that line.  But it’s awesome, right?  Of course it is.  I’ve been stoked for this film since I saw the first trailer last year.  Not just because the awesome Louis C.K. voices the lead pup, but because the idea about a film that looks at what our pets do while we’re not around sounded like fun.  It is. Now be forewarned; this story isn’t gonna reach deep into the power themes, as Finding Dory, WALL*E or Toy Story.  And while there’s not much social commentary here – except a brief whiff of adopt-don’t-shop (seriously people) and the importance of understanding the commitment and connection that is having another species dependent upon you – there’s plenty to enjoy for all ages in this sweet little trifle.

It’s NYC baby!  And just about every day, pet people leave their beloved furry/finned/etc. friends behind to get their workday on.  Max (Louis C.K.), a Jack Russel Terrier, loves his human Katie (Ellie Kemper).  But when Katie brings in a new dog – shelter rescue and walking carpet Duke (Eric Stonestreet, channeling John Goodman) – tempers flare between the two pups.  Duke is a gruff jerk, and it didn’t help that Max wasn’t very nice at first.  But when Max decides to try to frame Duke for a huge mess that Katie may consider too much, Duke grabs Max and heads off to the streets.  An attempt to leave Max lost in the wilds of the city backfires when alley cats, animal control, and an underground (literally) army of “flushed pets” make it hard for those two to find their way back home.  Can they put aside their differences and become a family?  BALL!

Directors Chris Renaud and Yarrow Cheney (Despicable Me) keep the rather threadbare plot moving nicely by throwing in lots of groovy side-plots that are sure to fascinate the little ones (lots of this doing lots of things!) and keep adults chuckling. The lair of the Flushed Pets is a subterranean dark wonderland of tunnels, levels and the odd memorial (“RICKY!”)   It’s also a look at what happens when people tire of their pets.  I can only hope it punches a few pet dumpers in the feels.  Or the balls.  Both’s good.  The pets themselves – current or former – are drawn with a loving detail that smacks of cartoon, but works for this film.  (Hey, it’s not Jungle Book here.)  There’s also a different kind of abandonment that gets its own subplot, but I won’t spoil it beyond saying grab some kleenex, it’s gonna be a necessary thing.  Don’t worry though, there’s nobody and nothing that will get in the way of the overall joy de vivre of this film’s tone.  A few feels, sure.  But overall Pets is a harmless trifle.

Which is all well and good for the kiddies, though adults who have partaken of other animated films that combined cute with depth could find themselves wishing for a bit more substance.  I figure you can play it either way; wish for a deeper (and probably darker) look at unwanted pets, animal control and such, or simply enjoy the hijinks provided.  With Pets, I’m leaning toward the latter.  Especially when there’s a Busby Berkeley number featuring meat products and two lost pups who have found their Shangri-La.






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