‘The Secret Life of Pets’ Review | The Dogs Must Be Crazy
If you’re anything like me, when you arrive back home and notice that your pet is in mid-scamper across the living room, you immediately assume that something is up. You check to make sure that the gas hasn’t been turned on. You scan the hallway for subtle tripwires. And you make damn well sure that the cat didn’t get into the potato chips again while you were out DAMN IT, SERGIO, THOSE WERE MY CHIPS! BAD CAT!
It doesn’t take a comic genius to imagine that while the humans are away, the pets will play. Tom & Jerry have been capitalizing on this very concept for well over half a decade. But it’s still an amusing idea to think about, and fortunately the makers of The Secret Life of Pets seem to have been thinking about it for a very long time because their movie is amusing as all get out.
The film stars Louis C.K. as the voice of Max, a small dog living in New York City with his owner, Katie (Ellie Kemper). When Katie suddenly brings home another dog, Duke (Eric Stonestreet), Max feels threatened and conspires to get rid of his rival as soon as caninely possible. However, Duke fights back, and they both wind up lost in the city without their collars. Before long they are on an incredible journey back home, fighting off a radicalized army of strays and unwittingly sending their housebound pet pals on an epic adventure to rescue them before any of their owners find out what really happened.
The Secret Life of Pets is a straightforward motion picture. Lost pets returning home, rivals learning to get along, New York City is its own character, none of these are elements that qualify as new and they haven’t been for an exceptionally long time. What matters is that the filmmakers themselves aren’t bored with these ideas. The simplicity of this film’s premise is instead a springboard for inspired new comic gags and impressively elaborate set pieces that – at their best – are worthy of comparison to the great silent classics.
Even at its worst, The Secret Life of Pets is merely, once again, just a straightforward motion picture. For every hilarious moment there are a few that are merely inoffensive, and although the characters are each sweet and effectively realized, our emotional connection to them seems to have been a less important than how “funny” they could be. I suspect the various personalities of the pets – like a hyper-nervous lap dog, a 100% aloof kitty cat, and so on and so forth – are meant to evoke a personal connection with one of the various pets that audience members have owned over the years. So if the hero dogs don’t remind you of a small, furry person you know, then one of the side characters will, and that’s probably supposed to carry you through the whole movie.
In an era when funny pet videos are probably the most popular genre of entertainment on the planet, a film like The Secret Life of Pets was more or less inevitable. Fortunately, it’s been made by people who love pets and who seem to understand what makes them funny. And heck, it might even make you look at your pets in a completely different – SERGIO, GET AWAY FROM THOSE CHIPS NOW! I’M SERIOUS, BUSTER! BAD CAT! – way.
Top Photo: Universal Pictures
William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on The B-Movies Podcast and Canceled Too Soon, and watch him on the weekly YouTube series Most Craved, Rapid Reviews and What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.