Illumination Entertainment has a way of producing animated trifles that don’t require the sardonic wit of Dreamworks or the weepie power of Pixar. They’re just so darn infectious anyways. Sure enough, The Secret Life of Pets is a shallow yet enjoyable trip through New York City’s veritable pet kingdom.
Pets of all packs litter the cast, from the typical dogs and cats to a lonely hawk (Albert Brooks) who craves friendship and harbors a craving for small animals at the same time. These disparate creatures band together at the behest of little Pomeranian Gidget (Lake Bell) to find their lost friend and her secret love Max (Louis C.K.), a terrier whose world is turned upside down when beloved owner Katie brings home a tubby mongrel named Duke (Eric Stonestreet). Following a series of unfortunate events, most stemming from their mutual distaste for each other, this unlikely duo are thrust onto the mean streets of a Manhattan filled with meaner cats, mangy soldiers of Animal Control, and a misguided bunch of former pets and never-pets who wish to exact retribution on all happily-owned pets and their owners. Led by the adorably sinister Snowball (Kevin Hart), a bunny with a chip on both shoulders, their criminal conspiracy is vast but not virulent, plenty of bark but not much bite. Thanks to a lovable Hart, Snowball steals the show.
Through their misadventures running from net-wielding buffoons and maniacal bunnies, the odd couple of dogs inevitably form a lasting bond, such as when they stumble upon, literally, a sausage factory. One of the more surprising moments involves Max and Duke experiencing a hallucinatory trip together as they mow down the smorgasbord of meats, a clear drug trip metaphor that stops just shy of making the point obvious for any wise kiddos in the audience. But don’t fret, parents. Pets is a kid-friendly good time, chock-full of clever-funny ruminations on the day-to-day life of man’s best friend when mankind is away from home. Take this dive of a condo in town where every pet worth his salt traipses into for a grand ole’ time scarfing snacks and chugging toilet bowls, less the elderly Snoopy look-alike with wheels for hind-legs yanks out their vacuum for a quick end to the crazy party. Applying human concepts to non-human characters will always be a consistent source of laughter in little one cinema.
Save one or two soliloquies on the lonesome nature of lost dogs and neglected pets, the feels are few and far between, particularly for any monster in the audience who doesn’t love dogs or cats. The Secret Life of Pets isn’t Pixar, but it sure is pretty cool watching these cuddly personalities get into big trouble in the Big Apple.