Movie review: 'The Secret Life of Pets,' clever, engaging adventure will entertain all ages


Parents need to know that "The Secret Life of Pets" is a clever, engaging adventure about what our dogs, cats, birds, and other domesticated creatures get up to when we're not around.

In the movie's case, it involves quite a bit of danger and peril: Main characters Max and Duke are frequently chased, sometimes on foot and sometimes in cars/vans/buses, which bang into things, crash, and catch on fire. They also dodge Animal Control officers; navigate dank, gloomy sewers; face off against an enormous viper and other predators/angry animals; and confront each other via barking, growling, yelling, and more. There's some bodily function humor (a Chihuahua pees on the floor in excitement, dogs sniff each other's rear ends, etc.), a fair bit of insult language ("dumb," "stupid," "weirdo," "idiots," "cry baby," etc.), and one use of swear stand-in "holy schnitzel." But underlying all this are positive messages about friendship, teamwork, perseverance, and empathy - as well as the futility of revenge and the importance of being open to new friends and the experiences that life brings.


Living the good life in a New York City apartment, Max (voiced by Louis C.K.) considers himself the luckiest dog in the world. But he gets upset when his beloved human, Katie (Ellie Kemper), brings home his giant, shaggy new "brother," Duke (Eric Stonestreet), from the shelter. Things get even worse for Max when he and Duke end up lost and collarless. After getting nabbed by Animal Control, they find themselves at the mercy of Snowball (Kevin Hart), a maniacal bunny with a grudge against humanity who leads an underground army of unwanted former pets. Max and Duke do their best to make it back to Katie, but it will take help from a group of Max's friends - led by determined Pomeranian Gidget (Jenny Slate) - for them to successfully elude Snowball and his goons.


Funny and engaging, with an excellent voice cast, this animated animal adventure will entertain audiences of all ages, with perhaps an extra dollop of appeal for devoted pet owners. It's amusing to see what Max and his buddies get up to when their people are gone for the day, from watching telenovelas to raiding the fridge to rocking out to heavy metal music. And the plot, while not exactly unique (it's hard to miss the parallels to "Toy Story," for instance), moves at a good clip, with enough twists and imaginative details to keep you fully engaged.

While meaningful messages aren't quite as front-and-center in "The Secret Life of Pets" as they were in, say "Zootopia," the movie has clear themes of perseverance and teamwork. And Max and Duke's sibling-like relationship could particularly resonate with blended families or those dealing with rivalry/resentment issues. The characters have an appealing depth, too. Somewhere in the midst of Snowball's many motor-mouthed blasts, Hart conveys the bunny's underlying loneliness and sadness. And Slate's Gidget proves that she's so much more than a pampered puffball. It's easy to imagine a sequel focused on her getting the gang back together to help another one of their own; meanwhile, here's hoping they all have cozy laps to curl up on.


Recommended for ages 6 and older

Quality: 4 out of 5

Educational value: 1 out of 5

Positive messages: 3 out of 5

Positive role models: 3 out of 5

Violence and scariness: 3 out of 5

Sexy stuff: 1 out of 5

Language: 2 out of 5

Drinking, drugs, and smoking: 0 out of 5

Consumerism: 1 out of 5 (Are products/advertisements embedded? Is the title part of a broader marketing initiative/empire? Is the intent to sell things to kids?)


Theatrical release date: July 8, 2016

Directors: Chris Renaud, Yarrow Cheney

Studio: Universal Pictures

Genre: Family and kids

Run time: 90 minutes

MPAA rating: PG

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