The Secret Life of Pets, from Illumination Entertainment, is the story Max (Louis CK) a small dog whose love for his owner Katie (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’s Elle Kemper), is bigger than anything else in his life. That is until she brings home Duke(Eric Stonestreet), an oversized homeless dog who takes over Max’s ordered life and his time with Katie, which to him, is all there is in the universe. Having none of this Max comes upon a plan to frame Duke for the destruction of Katie’s apartment and in the process blackmails his new “brother” into doing his bidding. The plan backfires when on a walk with the other neighborhood dogs and a walker. Duke manages to lure Max out of the dog park and on a journey that takes them from the dogcatcher to a sewer of lost pets, and eventually, to an understanding that what you see on the surface, no matter how big it looks, can be a scared puppy inside.
I will admit to laughing out loud a number of times in this movie and my son adored it. He actually told us that everyone in his preschool had been talking about it, which brought to mind all of those little people standing around a water cooler and talking about last nights entertainment, an image the might be more enduring than the movie itself. Louie CK brings a terrific sense of “I’ll do anything for my master” to Max and a mostly nice group of actor and comedians lend their voices to all the other Pets throughout the movie. Big props to Jenny Slate who I love almost anywhere but who lends her naturally character filled voice to Gidget, a puffy little dog in love with Max who provides what might be the real beating heart of the movie.
After it ended though I couldn’t help but compare it to a movie like Zootopia which did such a good job packing in more than just a kids movie about talking animals. That movie played with the notion of our differences and being judged based on what you were born as. It could be taken as a riff on sexuality or race, both issues that we need to find more ways to talk to young people about. The Secret Life of Pets provides no such depth. As I said before I laughed out loud a number of times but in the end it didn’t provide me with much to latch onto. The journey story is great and of course, after taking it, the dogs becomes real brothers and find comfort with each other, but, there is a core missing from the film. That thing that we find in good stories that becomes the universal connector to our world.
There was one moment when we find out about Dukes original owner who died while Duke was lost. There was an opening there for something really satisfying and poetic that could have tied the film together more. A talk about death, loss, and how we all get lost sometimes, but the movie skipped that and went for mostly funny. I like funny a lot, but add real pathos and you have a movies that will last. This one will just fade away.
Almost deals with grief, past that, friendship