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Review: “The Secret Life of Pets” (PG)


Universal(NEW YORK) — From the people who brought us the Despicable Me franchise and The Lorax comes a sneak peek into what our beloved pets do when we’re either not home, or we’re sleeping.  Sort of.

Louis C.K. is Max, a devoted dog whose entire life centers around his owner, Katie, voiced by Ellie Kemper. It’s a perfect existence until Katie brings home Duke (Eric Stonestreet), a big, lumbering, fluffy dog who immediately starts to bully Max.

A distraught Max turns to his dog friends for advice, including Gidget (Jenny Slate) a tiny dog that almost looks like a cat and who has a terrible crush on Max.  There’s also Chloe (Lake Bell), a fat cat with a hilarious fat-cat attitude, and a Pug named Mel (Bobby Moynihan).  The friends serve as comic relief, while Gidget serves as Max’s love interest and, perhaps, an unlikely hero.

While out with the dog walker, Duke absconds with Max in the hopes of getting rid of him far away from home.  But they get lost and suddenly find themselves face-to-face with an army of tough stray cats. Once they’ve escaped that near-CATastrophe, they encounter Snowball (Kevin Hart), an adorable but belligerent white bunny rabbit with a disdain for domesticated animals.  Snowball leads the “flushed pets” — a group of angry former domesticated animals who were, literally, flushed down the toilet by their former owners or otherwise kicked to the curb.  And they want revenge.

This is a real kid-pleaser.  The talking animals will stimulate young imaginations that like to pretend their pets can talk, or who like to endow their dogs and cats with human traits.  What kids won’t notice is that a terrific concept gets bogged down by forced action and adventure. Max and Duke’s natural conflict didn’t need to lead to car chases, fighting and the threat of death for several of the characters, all of which makes The Secret Life of Pets more predictable and less original than most of the trailers suggest.

But forgive me, I’m just being critical — which is what I do. I have children and yes, I will be taking them to see The Secret Life of Pets because it’s still solid family fun with plenty of cute and intelligent jokes, and a few scary moments that aren’t too scary.

Three-and-a-half out of five stars. 

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