Anyone who has ascribed deep thought or carefully plotted intentions to our furry or feathered friends with will relate to the imagination behind “The Secret Life of Pets.”
It may not have the emotional resonance of a Pixar movie, but its playful premise, endearing performances and outstanding score by Alexandre Desplat make “Pets” fun family fare.
“Pets” continues down the path set by Pixar two decades ago in “Toy Story”: Two would-be rivals fighting for the love of their owner are forced to unite for a common cause. “The Secret Life of Pets” itself comes from animation studio Illumination Entertainment — the home of those ubiquitous Minions, who remain inescapable, as there’s a short film featuring the industrious yellow creatures before the feature. “Pets” is helmed by directors Chris Renaud (“Despicable Me”) and Yarrow Cheney.
The little terrier Max (C.K.) is the top dog in the life of his owner, Katie (Ellie Kemper), and a leader among the other pets in their New York City apartment building, including the neighboring Pomeranian, Gidget (Slate) and the fat cat next door, Chloe (Lake Bell).
But his exalted position is threatened when Katie brings home a giant, fluffy mutt named Duke (Eric Stonestreet), and Max and Duke instantly become rivals.
They try to sabotage each other when they get separated from their dog walker and captured by animal control — the start of an adventure in the animal underworld — led by a bitter bunny named Snowball (Hart), who has organized the city’s “flushed pets,” (those abandoned by their owners) into a team. Their motto is “Liberated forever, domesticated never.”
Max and Duke try to fit in, but Snowball soon notes, “You’ve got the scent of domestication all over you.” So he sends his army of rogue animals after them and, at one point, even steals a bus.
Meanwhile, the other pets from Max and Duke’s building notice the two are missing, and set out to find them.
Gidget, who has a not-so-secret crush on Max, leads a menagerie that includes Chloe the cat, Mel the pug, Buddy the dachshund and a guinea pig named Norman. And they enlist the help of Tiberius the hawk (Brooks) and Pops (Dana Carvey), a wheelchair-bound basset hound who knows every animal in New York.
Alexandre Desplat’s jazzy score ratchets up the urgency and excitement as the chase through the city goes into full swing, and the clever animation spotlights the quirkiness of animal behavior.
Though the film’s anthropomorphized stars speak English and operate electronic devices, they retain some recognizable animal characteristics, too.
When Pops wants guests at one of his famous parties to go home, for example, he turns on the vacuum cleaner. Dogs in hot pursuit of their friends are suddenly distracted by butterflies.
And Buddy’s movements are especially amusing, as he navigates his elongated body around corners and down stairs.
It’s fun to imagine what mischief pets could get into when their human’s aren’t home, and “Pets” does a great job of taking that idea to an extreme.
And we all thought Fluffy and Fido just spend the day napping.