The Secret Life of Pets (2016)

PG, 87 minutes, Adventure

Starring: Louis C.K.Eric StonestreetKevin HartJenny Slate

I own four cats. Three of them came as a package deal: three dirty, mewling kittens abandoned by their mother and condemned to die if the construction worker who found them couldn’t find a home. At the pet store, my wife came across the guy and his aural box of peach fuzz. He begged her to take them. The kittens screamed with hunger. She relented and I don’t blame her for being softhearted. The cashier at the pet store gave us the number of a woman who takes in strays, but she was away for the week. Well… a week was too late as raising newborn kittens got us firmly attached. Now I chuck the cat toys they don’t play with at them as they fight over a cardboard box that sits next to their expensive and unused cat tree. Don’t blame me for being a complete and utter sucker.

The Secret Life of Pets takes a look at the animals suckers like my wife and I adopt as our new overlords. Max (C.K.–c’mon, man! I love you, but initials for a last name?) finds his perfect life shattered when his owner brings home a stray dog named Duke (Stonestreet). The two get into one conflict after another until their carelessness ends up getting them both lost. Now Max and Duke need to survive cat gangs, a terrorist bunny, and the streets of New York itself in order to make it back home.

Secret Life of Pets 2
This is the exact face I make when dealing with people on the bus.

So I love my cats, but they drive me nuts. Whenever we’re not looking, they get on counters and throw up all over the place and every once in a while something gets chewed to bits… which tends to lead to more throwing up… Half the time we don’t know what they’re doing. And why should they tell us? It’s their house now after all. Ugh… But we always wonder what it would be like to have a camera trained on them all the time. This is movie is basically like that… but with adventure!

Aside from a simple, cute story, that’s the real hallmark of this movie: animal behavior. It takes all the weird quirks from a half dozen species and presents them humorously, because goodness knows animals are at least worth a smile. Having owned cats, dogs, fish, a hamster, and a turtle I couldn’t help but throw my hands up in a whaddayado shrug at the characters’ quirks. The pug that insanely defends his home from an evil squirrel; the unhappy cat that suddenly becomes destructively obsessed with the laser pointer; the escaped guinea pig that has no idea where he is–these are all extremely unimportant tangents to the plot, but they create a detailed backdrop this movie required in order to have some uniqueness.

Secret Life of Pets 3
Psycho never looked so cute!

Speaking of uniqueness, Hart’s performance as the psychotic rabbit Snowball just about stole the show. His frenzied manner and hatred towards humans not only keeps the plot going, but he adds humorous insanity to what should be an otherwise passive–skittish even–animal. But what do I know? I’ve never owned a rabbit. I just see the wild ones at night that run from owls and jump four feet into the air for literally no reason other than to tap their heals together. So maybe Snowball has a right to be insane by birth…

In all this is a pretty decent little flick. It’s cute, it’s simple, but nothing really Earth-shattering happens, which makes it an easily digestible kids movie. It has potential for future stories since there’s no shortage of characters to choose from, but we all know the stereotype about sequels. They focused so much on quirky animal behavior here that another entry might not carry the same charm. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

Prediction: In the sequel the owner gets a live-in boyfriend with a bizarre pet of his own. Oh noes!

Rating: Watch it.

Watch: It’s harmless and cute.
Don’t watch: If you need complexity in your life.


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