What happens in the litter box, stays in the litter box.
From Universal, another animated family feature, in an increasingly crowded field of animated family features: The Secret Life of Pets takes the Toy Story formula and applies it to dogs and kittens and birds and stuff. You know, the “what crazy hijinks ensue when humans have their eyes turn away” playbook that has been such a dependable narrative foil over the years?
Derivative or not, here’s the good news: The Secret Life of Pets is a pretty good time.
Full disclosure, it was the first movie in the theater my three year-old son ever saw, so perhaps I’m approaching this review with a smidgen of dad-colored glasses. But we were all into it and revisiting it on Blu-ray confirmed my initial impression: this is a funny, well-paced,suitable emotive slice of family animation.
The film centers around a terrier named Max (voiced well by Louis CK) who’s living the life. He lives in a great NYC apartment, the object of adoration from a loving female millennial, and is surrounded by a good group of pet friends in the apartment complex.
Max’s day is turned upside down when a new dog arrives in the apartment, a giant, furry, slobbering mess named Duke (Erik Stonestreet). The two, suddenly antagonists vying for control over the living space, launch a full-scale war against each other. What they two are not prepared for is circumstances spinning out of control and the duo finding themselves lost in the city and embarking on an epic voyage to return home.
Hey there’s another story beat that’s incredibly familiar!
Look, the whole film is cut from the same cloth of so many others in the genre. But what The Secret Life of Pets may lack in pure originality, it makes up for in execution. The writing is filled with enough jokes to keep the adults laughing, and the doggy slapstick will almost certainly hit the sweet spot for your rugrats.
Some of it can be a bit too overwrought. Kevin Hart lends his manic voice to the character of a militant bunny rabbit (see it’s a cute bunny rabbit that’s militant!) and that schtick wears thin pretty early on. And the scatalogical humor quotient is just a bit too high for this prudish dad.
But the emotional core of two former rivals finding friendship and the general feel-goodness of pets who issue unconditional love to their humans is solid. Add the film’s frantic energy and charming animation and you’ve got yourself a modest winner.