Review: The Secret Life of Pets

Last Updated on August 5, 2021

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PLOT: Max (Louis C.K) – a spoiled terrier – finds his comfortable NYC life threatened by the arrival of a big dog named Duke (Eric Stonestreet) who competes with him for his owner’s love. After a plot to get rid of his competition goes awry, Max finds himself unwittingly allied with Duke as the two must put aside their differences to navigate the city and find their way home.

REVIEW: A few years ago, THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS would have seemed pretty good for a kids movie. Inoffensive and fun, it’s cute enough that it won’t drive parents up the wall when they take their kids to see it in theaters. It used to be that was more than enough to give an animated romp a pass, but lately these kinds of movies have gotten really good. This year alone has seen the release of two potentially Oscar-worthy animated films, ZOOTOPIA and FINDING DORY, which transcend merely being “kids movies” and are just legitimately good films. While much better than something like THE ANGRY BIRDS MOVIE, THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS just can’t compete.

secret life of pets louis ck eric stonestreet

As is common with many of the movies produced by upstart CG animation studio Illumination, the first twenty minutes of PETS are the best. Here, the filmmakers get a lot of mileage out of satirizing usual pet behavior, from the cute dogs eagerly awaiting their owner’s return, to the cats who couldn’t care less that they’re being left alone, to the hamster who’s found his way into his apartment vent and has absolutely no idea how to get back home.

The voice cast is cleverly assembled. Louis C.K – funny enough – is the perfect guy to voice a dog with him often slipping into the same kind of over-excited voice he did during his famous routine about what he had to do when his dog ate chocolate. Eric Stonestreet is similarly fun as the big, cuddly Duke, while Lake Bell is a joy as a bitchy neighbor cat (who – let’s not offend cat owners – winds up being nice after all), and Jenny Slate is ideal as a Bichon Frise with the hots for Max.

secret life of pets lake bell

However, once the first act is over and the two pups find themselves navigating the city, the movie becomes kind-of old hat, with a plot about the two being stalked by an army of abandoned pets feeling like a less touching leftover from the Island of Misfit Toys. Kevin Hart does his usual thing as a former magician’s bunny turned streetwise rabbit, and while he’s clearly trying to wring laughs out of it, he aims for the funny bone more than the heart. In movies like this, it’s a fine line a performer has to waddle and it’s one he’s not quite able to pull off, although it’s probably not his fault.

Given that it’s only ninety minutes, with a MINIONS short attached to it, THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS winds-up feeling surprisingly draggy, with the flabby midsection only livened-up by Albert Brooks as a tough-New York Hawk who alternately wants to eat our heroes and be their friends, and a funny cameo by Steve Coogan as a thuggish stray cat.

While more dull than it should have been, THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS is still…cute even if it falls way short of the quality of animated yarns we gotten used to thanks to Disney. It’s colorful, and there’s tons of goofy gags to entertain the kids, even if adults may find it to be more of a snooze than the funny trailers led on.


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About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.