August 30, 2016
From the makers of "Despicable Me" and "The Minions" come this new animated film about what pets do when their masters go away every morning. Frankly the trailers did not really interest me at first because it looked too kiddy, but curiosity still got the better of me. There was nothing in the trailer that told us what aspect of a master-pet relationship they were going to tackle, and I thought that would be interesting.
Max is a pampered terrier living with his master Katie. He lives in a neighborhood of apartments in New York City also with other pampered pets like him. Among them are Chloe the fat cat, Mel the pug, Buddy the dachshund, and Gidget the white pomeranian with a big crush on Max. One day, Katie brings home a huge hairy brown mutt from the pound named Duke to be Max's friend. The two don't hit it off very well and this led to a crazy day where they lost their collars, get pursued by dogcatchers, and get tangled up with a gang of disgruntled abandoned pets led by a psychotic white rabbit named Snowball.
With that summary alone, you can see that this film is just like "Baby's Day Out", a wacky adventure fraught with danger and mayhem that happens within a single day, only this is about a couple of pet dogs instead of a baby. The artwork may indeed look very cute and cuddly to appeal a young audience. However, the underlying violent theme of the storyline is not that innocent nor innocuous. This should have been rated PG, instead of G.
There was a rather scary scene of gangland cats led by a bald, scarred pink cat named Ozone bullying Max and Duke. Later on, there were even more intense scenes about a bigger gang of animals in the sewers of New York City, the so-called "Flushed Pets" led by Snowball. This ugly underground posse of angry ex-pets (which include pigs, iguanas, snakes and even crocodiles!) have a disturbing mission to destroy humans in revenge. They even have initiation rites that require a bite from a viper's fang.
There were weird trippy scenes like that when Max and Duke raid a sausage factory. The sausages were even singing a song from the soundtrack of "Grease"! Then there was also an unfortunate reprise of a scene I did not like from "Finding Dory" where animals were seen driving a vehicle in the city streets. This time there was an ensuing crash of a bus on the bridge, and a truck falling into the water below. Yet at the end, the day's harrowing events the pets went through seemed to have no effect at all for their masters. It was as if everything we saw that day was just an hour-long doggie nightmare that never really happened.
The voice work by some noted comedians were really instrumental to give a distinct personality to the animal characters. The entitled voice of Max is by Louis C.K. The gruff voice of Duke is by Eric Stonestreet. The bipolar voice of Snowball is by Kevin Hart -- this guy can really go cutesy angelic to maniacal demon in an instant. The lovelorn voice of Gidget is by Jenny Slate. There are also some old school comic genius in the voices of Tiberius the hawk (Albert Brooks) and Pop the paralyzed basset hound (Dana Carvey). new friends Gidget met in her quest to get Max back.
With an audacious title like "The Secret Life of Pets," I was expecting a more encompassing film exploring the relationship between pets and their masters. I liked this film when they show the interaction of people with their pets. I liked Max's and Duke's respective backstories regarding their masters. I really, really liked that final montage where they showed people coming home from work at the end of the day and how masters and pets welcomed each other's reunion. That particularly precious series of heartwarming scenes alone was worth a lot more to me than the movie as a whole. 6/10.