Written by Ken Daurio, Brian Lynch and Cinco Paul
Directed by Chris Renaud and Yarrow Cheney
Starring Louis C.K., Eric Stonestreet, Jenny Slate, Kevin Hart, Lake Bell, Albert Brooks, Ellie Kemper and more
Grade: Three and a half stars
The trailers don’t do “The Secret Life of Pets” justice.
Normally, trailers have all the best parts of the movie squeezed into three minutes, but the ads for “The Secret Life of Pets” have the opposite problem. They get the concept, but mix all the complexity, the genuine inventiveness, offbeat sensibility and quirky humor that makes “Pets” a worthy successor to the original “Despicable Me.”
It turns out that pets lead wilder lives that we humans could imagine, but are still so recognizably pets that any dog or cat owner watching will find themselves wondering what their own animals get up to.
The story starts with a fun montage of what various pets get up to after their owners leave for the day before introducing us to the main story, which features two dogs trying to share one owner.
Max, the original dog, and Duke, the new dog from the pound, don’t like each other, and their squabbles end up taking the two on a journey through New York that eventually brings together a variety of other pets and former pets. Together, they have to decide whether they want revolution or just to be able to go home again.
The best thing about the movie is that it's not nearly as cut-and-dried as the trailers make it out to be. Both dogs are equally at fault for the mess that happens, and the question of where “home” is exactly is nowhere as easy to answer as it seems at first. The group of “friend” pets is fueled by a motivation I didn’t expect, and one scene early on in the “rallying the troops” sequence plays out entirely differently than the usual clichés insist it should.
The former pets, a motley collection led by a manic, homicidal bunny, are allowed to be much stranger and wilder than the group of angry alley cats who are the more expected villains for this type of movie. Kevin Hart gives Snowball, the lead rabbit, all the megalomaniacal energy of the most theatrical super villains. He’s a bunny with a grudge, and he manages to be both a little scary and yet more complex than your average movie villain.
While the movie is far from realistic, pet owners may find several relatable moments. My family has always had cats, and so Chloe (the big gray cat voiced by Lake Bell) was quite fun. Most of the movie, however, belongs to the dogs, and if you’re a dog owner odds are you’ll see your own pooch in one of the animals onscreen.
Is “The Secret Life of Pets” going to change your life? No. But it had both the kids and the adults in the audience laughing, a few nice life lessons snuck in there, and some moments creative enough that I’m smiling even now as I think of them. To me, that’s the recipe for a movie worth seeing, which is a lot more than I expected when I first saw those trailers.