The Secret Life of Pets (2016) Movie Review By John Walsh

Directors: Chris Renaud,  Yarrow Cheney
Writers: Cinco Paul,  Ken Daurio
Stars: Louis C.K.,  Eric Stonestreet,  Kevin Hart

The creators of the Despicable Me franchise, Illumination Entertainment, are back and this time they’re answering the question which has long been pondered by anyone who has ever had the pleasure of owning a pet in their life. Just what the hell do our furry/hairy/scaled companions get up to when their home alone? Their take on this is unsurprisingly an hilarious, light-hearted and entertaining buddy adventure that’ll be enjoyed by both parent and child alike.

Featuring their trademark wacky, elongated and gorgeous visuals. The premise of the film is pretty simple, following rescue dog Max (Louis C.K.) just as his paradisiacal life of luxury in a swanky Manhattan apartment comes to an abrupt end. His beloved owner Katie (Ellie Kemper) brings home the towering, disheveled looking Duke (Eric Stonestreet) to wreak havoc with the poor little dogs only-child existence and kickstart of the ensuing mayhem. The two don’t get along, as you’d imagine, and after a metaphorical tug of war between the pair they soon end up in the crosshairs of a gang of alley cats, lead by Ozone (Steve Coogan), losing their collars in the process and getting picked up by their nemesis in animal control.

On their travails they stumble across Snowball (Kevin Hart); a passive-aggressive bunny, who along with his cronies, reluctantly helps them break out of the animal control van only to force them into his massive convent of anti-humans ‘The Flushed Pets’. Acting with all the bravado of Wilder and Pryor in Stir Crazy, the hapless duo decide to bluff their way into Snowball’s cult, lying about killing their owner and descend into the sewers with the ragtag scout group, that includes an ex-tattoo parlour, test pig. Unfortunately, they’re soon rumbled by the returning alley cats and after accidentally killing the cults much beloved Python, responsible for the initiation ceremony, they’re forced to make a hasty departure, ending up in Brooklyn via the sewage system (resembling a slip and slide) and a ferry.

“They say everyone is going to Brooklyn” the punk-ish looking pig exclaims, “I’m not talking about hipster real estate trends” Snowball snaps back in perfect deadpan fashion. And to Brooklyn the film does indeed go; taking a detour through a sausage factory with a scene resembling a meaty version of Willy Wonka’s as both Max and Duke gorge on a feast of wieners; and also taking a reflective trip down memory lane, literally in this case, to the big, hairy, Newfoundland’s former life and home. This touching moment effectively turns the tide permanently for the duo’s relationship, though not before the persistent animal control resurface to snatch Duke following his heroic sacrifice for Max.

Meanwhile, Max’s worried friend/long time admirer Gidget (Jenny Slate), noticing he never returned from his daily walk, enlists the help of the little terriers array of different apartment friends to set about rescuing him. These include; Tiberius (Albert Brooks), an isolated, fairly ravenous bird of prey; Chloe (Lake Bell), a blunt, contented, portly cat; Buddy (Hannibal Buress), a Daschund resembling slinky from Toy Story, Pops (Dana Carvey), an elderly dog with connections (and wheels) and Norman (Chris Renaud), a daft as a brush Guinea pig with a speech impediment. Together, this unusual alliance of pets set about tracking down the lost duo, with Gidget becoming increasingly agitated and irritable about her crush Max’s safety, and finally leading to an exciting, epic finale on Brooklyn Bridge that honestly wouldn’t look out of place in a Tom Cruise life action film.

I thought this was an excellent, jovial film with lots of genuine funny moments throughout and, whilst obviously targeted at the younger demographic, it still had enough to entertain older viewers too. Perhaps it helps that I’m an animal lover with pets of my own which gave me an immediate connection with the films protagonists. The character of Chloe in particular produced some hilarious moments, whilst perfectly encapsulating the stoner-esque, laid back nature of 99% of cats in the world. Kevin Hart’s Snowball was the standout though and he imbued the character with his unique blend of humour and personality to brilliant effect. Honourable shouts to James Coogan and Louis CK, both of whom I admire as comedians, and who where excellent in their respective roles.

I’d recommend this to people of all ages. It’s got the right blend of silliness, visuals, humour and a story simplistic enough for young children to appreciate, whilst also conveying a serious message to older viewers underneath the comedic elements about the benefits of giving rescue dogs a home and the way we treat our pets in general.

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