Movie review of “The Secret Life of Pets”: Somewhere along the way, the animated film becomes less of a quirky animal comedy and more of a very long, standard-issue chase scene. Rating: 2-and-a-half out of 4 stars.
Just what, exactly, do our pets do while we’re away? That’s the potentially delightful premise for “The Secret Life of Pets,” an animated comedy starring an assortment of four-footed New Yorkers whose owners are at work all day. My own cat seems to pass the time by plotting ways to open closet doors and thus wallow luxuriously in folded sweaters. Pets in this movie, during its adorable opening minutes, scheme to extract a roast chicken from the fridge (a rather portly cat); use an electric mixer as a back massager (a wiener dog); watch telenovelas (a fluffy Pomeranian); throw a headbanging party (an otherwise sedate French poodle); and fly in front of a video-game screen, pretending it’s a vast landscape (a not-so-caged bird).
And some, like the good-dog terrier Max (voiced by Louis C.K.), sit sadly at the door, waiting for their favorite person to return. Max, the hero of this story, adores his owner Katie (Ellie Kemper) — even when she brings another rescue dog, the shambling, good-hearted Duke (Eric Stonestreet), home to share their cozy apartment. Max isn’t at all sure what he thinks of Duke, but soon the two become a team, joining forces against a fast-talking, conniving bunny (Kevin Hart) who’s out to take over the city with an army of abandoned pets.
Somewhere along the way, alas, “The Secret Life of Pets” becomes less of a quirky animal comedy and more of a very long, standard-issue chase scene, as we zoom through Manhattan with Max, Duke and their gang of hangers-on. The plot at one point takes a pointless wrong turn toward Pixar-style poignancy (it misses by a mile); a development aptly described by my 11-year-old assistant as “sad and a little bit annoying.” And the 3D, as is far too often the case, adds only to the ticket price, not to the experience.
Movie Review ★★½
‘The Secret Life of Pets,’ with the voices of Louis C.K., Eric Stonestreet, Kevin Hart, Jenny Slate, Ellie Kemper, Lake Bell, Dana Carvey, Hannibal Buress, Bobby Moynihan, Steve Coogan and Albert Brooks. Directed by Chris Renaud, from a screenplay by Cinco Paul, Ken Daurio and Brian Lynch. 95 minutes. Rated PG for action and some rude humor. Several theaters.
Too bad; there’s a funny, offbeat movie lurking in the details here. The stray observations about dogs and cats feel just right (a cat tells an object that “I’m going to bat you around for hours in a game only I understand”), the lollipop colors of the city are charming and the voicework witty.
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I wonder, though, as I’ve wondered before: Why are all animal movies clearly made by dog people? (Do dogs just have better agents?) In “The Secret Life of Pets,” the many dogs are for the most part honest and heroic; the few cats are, if not entirely evil, certainly sly and self-absorbed. Perhaps my cat could work on a cat-centered rewrite of this movie’s script — if she ever gets any spare time.