Thursday, July 7, 2016

Review: "The Secret Life of Pets"

Colorful, boingy, copious critters, a robust emphasis on gastrointestinal humor -- if that’s not the perfect recipe for a little kids’ movie, then I don’t know what is.

Note I said “little kids’ movie,” not “family film,” because while “The Secret Life of Pets” is a strong entry in the former, it is not much in the way of the latter. What it mostly is is a sorta-sequel to “Minions,” made by the same people, with cartoony dogs and cats (a few birds and reptiles, too) swapped out for the lil’ yellow dudes.

Well, except these guys are understandable. It’s a “Toy Story” -ish conceit, about the adventures our pets go on when we’re not around. To humans their speech just sounds like barks and yelps and what have you, but they can all understand each other -- no inter-species language barrier here.

The story focuses on two dogs, Max and Duke, voiced by Louis C.K. and Eric Stonestreet. Max is a fun-loving little dude who has a cozy life in New York City with his owner, Katie (Ellie Kemper). But then one day she brings home Duke, an enormous brown ball of fluff from the shelter, and all bets are off as they vie for title of apartment alpha dog.

Through a whole lot of implausible contretemps, they’re lost in the city trying to find their way home. Meanwhile they are pursued by two groups. The first is a rescue mission led by Gidget (the adorably squeaky Jenny Slate), the white Pomeranian from across the way who secretly adores Max.

She throws together a ragtag group that includes Max’s other dog friends, a fat and lazy cat (Lake Bell), a parakeet, guinea pig and even a hawk (Albert Brooks), who tamps down his predatory instinct to help creatures he would usually snack on.

And that’s actually the normal team. The other, more antagonistic one is the Flushed Pets, a gang of discarded creatures who’ve sworn revenge on the human world that shunned them. They have a tattooed pig, a hairless and holey cat (Steve Coogan), several alligators, assorted lizards and fish and a large one-fanged viper. Their leader is Snowball (Kevin Hart), an excitable former magician’s rabbit with the heart of William Wallace and the combat skills of… a poofy little hare.

“Liberation forever, domestication never!” is his clarion call.

Director Chris Renaud, co-director Yarrow Cheney and screenwriters Ken Daurio, Brian Lynch and Cinco Paul pitch the material straight at the 3- to 8-year-old audience. For instance, there’s a dog party where they walk in a circle sniffing each other’s butts while exchanging pleasantries. (“Enchanté!”) A high point is a sequence where the dogs break into a sausage factory and gorge themselves, leading to pork-induced hallucinations and a musical number.

“The Secret Life of Dogs” is well-made, unambitious entertainment. It’s the sort of thing you appreciate being able to let your kids enjoy, while at the same time wishing it were permissible to go off and do something else.

(Drop-off theaters with supervised double-features of this and “The Angry Birds Movie”? Now that’s an upcharge parents would happily shell out for ahead of 3-D.)

1 comment:

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