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The Secret Life of Pets

Coming Soon


The Secret Life of Pets is busy.

If The BFG (2016) was slow and plodding, lacking in character development and plot, then The Secret Life of Pets is a frenetic sprint through a physician’s manual on Stockholm Syndrome and militia organizations.

There is so much going on and so many loose ends need to be tied up, you’re a little overwhelmed. It’s got a run-time of 90 minutes. It *is* long, especially for an animated kids’ movie.

Max (Louis C.K., Trumbo (2015)) is a Terrier desperately devoted to his human companion, Katie (Ellie Kemper, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt), nearly to the point of dangerous obsession. One day she brings home a new dog, Duke (Eric Stonestreet, Modern Family), who’s not only huge but likely violates more than a few apartment ordinances for pet sizes. Max and Duke don’t hit it off; Max because he’s a possessive jerk, and Duke because he has abandonment issues. Needless to say, neither one was sympathetic enough to root for. Duke tricks Max into running off but they’re both captured by Animal Control. All seems lost until they’re rescued by the psychotic rabbit, Snowball (Kevin Hart, Central Intelligence (2016)), who has very vague plans to take down humans. One of the true rare funnies is the repeated callback to Snowball’s shrine to fallen “Flushed Pets” Lieutenant, Ricky.

In my imagined backstory, if “The Aflac Duck” had rabies, it would turn into Ricky.

Meanwhile, Max’s pals realize he’s gone (it takes a minute). The Pomeranian Gidget (Jenny Slate, Bob’s Burgers), has unrequited love issues of her own and launches a plan to find Max and bring him home. She enlists a hawk named Tiberius (Albert Brooks, Finding Nemo (2016)), the Pet’s version of Finding Nemo’s shark, Bruce (”fish are friends, not food”). Every version of pet is recognized in The Secret Life of Pets. There’s the sociopathic cat, Chloe (Lake Bell, Children’s Hospital) and the dumber than a box of hair bulldog, Mel (Bobby Moynihan, Saturday Night Live). We also meet a guinea pig, Norman (Chris Renaud, Despicable Me (2010)) who is chronically lost in the walls of the apartment building.

This isn’t so much a peek into secret lives since we don’t really see what all they do when they aren’t ineptly rescuing each other. Do treat deals go down at Pops’? Do the Orange Tabbies play Parent Trap and swap owners for a day? Do the crated pets jet spring by compassionate compatriots?

Dunno, because on this particular day, they were saving a bunch of selfish dogs that ended up having a pretty rocking time out on their own, even factoring in the gang of stray cats, Animal Control, and a perilous trek across the Brooklyn Bridge. Focus on the journey, not the destination, right?

The Secret Life of Pets has a very compressed timeline, and everything happens in a day. That being said, there’s a lot that simply doesn’t work in this movie. While I loved the social club atmosphere at the home of elderly, handicapped Pops’ (Dana Carvey, Saturday Night Live), the madcap trek through the City didn’t add much to the story except time. The sausage factory sequence made me seriously wonder about quality control, and I don’t know what Urgent Care facility Animal Control was using, but I’d sue.

If you’ve seen the commercials for The Secret Life of Pets, you’ve almost seen all of the best parts. The headbanging Great Poodle, the flying ace parakeet, Sweet Pea, and the dachshund with a mixing stand fetish. Ensemble casts are fun, but there were too many moving parts and they all had stories to wrap, and it was a little exhausting.

90 minutes is a long time for a busy movie, and this would have worked just as well at 75. The screening I was treated to was in 3-D, which again, may not be something you’re willing to pay for.

Also, because this is an Illumination project, you’re treated to a Minions short, Mower Minions. I’ve never seen Despicable Me and don’t understand the draw, but some people found it funny. When you work with people like that, it’s less amusing.

The Secret Life of Pets is a Saturday Matinee recommend for me. Younger kids may not be able to sit through all 90 minutes, and slightly older kids may not be able to connect with how mean Max and Duke are to each other. I know that was one of my problems.

This movie is rated PG for action and “rude humor.”

The Secret Life of Pets is streaming now on the following services:
Movie Reelist Contributor: MontiLee Stormer
MontiLee Stormer is a writer of horror, dark and urban fantasy. She’s also is a troublemaker, concocting acts of mayhem and despair for her own selfish pleasure. An avid movie watcher, she prefers horror but will see just about anything if you're buying. Poltergeist (1982) is her favorite movie and she actively hates The Shining (1980) due to its racism, misogyny, the butchering of the source material. She could host a TEDtalk on this single subject. Writing about herself in the third person is just a bonus.

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