The Secret Life of Pets Review: No Toy Story Here


I walked into the the theater to watch "The Secret Life of Pets" without knowing anything about the plot beyond having seen the official trailer, and the first few minutes nearly exactly mirrored the trailer.

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. Max and Duke agree to join The Flushed Pets until they witness the initiation rite. It appears that both children and adults alike are yearning for more of what The Secret Life of Pets has brought for them.

The Secret Life of Pets mainly centers on two dogs. And one human character is killed off with a casual shrug of the plot. Short of setting up one of those cameras that captures your pup nosing stacks of papers off your desk just for kicks, there's no way to know for sure.

What do your pets do all day while you're away?

From the start, The Secret Life of Pets makes no secret that it is a Toy Story clone, and while it's mostly entertaining, it never truly breaks past these boundaries. Chris Renaud and Yarrow Cheney's latest animation swings for the fences in terms of giving its characters the ability to go full-on insane, and if anything, it succeeds in this regard.

And it's even more exaggerated in a big city like NY, which is where Max (voiced by Louis C.K.) is a terrier who adores Katie, a single apartment dweller.

As Max tells it, he and Katie have the greatest time - but every morning, she just leaves him. Why does she do that? She is so tough, she rallies her fellow troops, a hyperactive pug named Mel (Bobby Moynihan); Chloë (Lake Bell), a fat cat with no filter and inability to fend off temptation; Buddy (Hannibal Buress), a wiener dog who has a taste of the finer things in life, and a very hungry hawk (Albert Brooks) to help find Max.

Max has quite the ideal life - until the night when Katie comes home with a huge rescue mutt named Duke (Stonestreet) and tells him Duke is his new "brother".

Moreover, they encounter a homicidal bunny (Kevin Hart, energetic at first, abrasive before it's over), leading a gang of discarded critters on a crusade to destroy people, beginning with these domesticated mutts who dare embrace them. After the movie Addie kept talking about her favorite character Snowball, voiced by Kevin Hart, giggling at how "hysterical" he was. It may be nitpicky to question the internal logic of a film where one dog has ninja skills and another can grasp and turn a set of keys underwater, but the further it ventures into the improbable, the worse it gets.

Carvey sounds like he's channeling Lionel Barrymore's Mr. Potter from "It's a Wonderful Life", and he scores perhaps the film's biggest laugh with a joke about his advanced age. When there's a chase sequence or some other type of romp, we don't need "romp music" telling us it's a romp.

The best thing about the movie is that it's not almost as cut-and-dried as the trailers make it out to be. The talking animals will stimulate the imaginations of youngsters who like to pretend their pets can talk or who like to endow their dogs and cats with human traits.