Anyone who’s ever teased a cat with a laser pointer or tossed a ball at a dog knows how easily pets can get distracted. Heck, even the vet dangles the occasional jangly trinket to keep Fluffy from noticing that needle.
Watching The Secret Life of Pets, you can’t help but feel that maybe Illumination, the studio behind Despicable Me, is doing the same thing with you. Throw enough stuff at us, and maybe we won’t notice that it’s only a so-so movie that spends much more time having dogs and cats can fly, run, and take a boat in an effort to escape animal control and a snarly little bunny than it does giving us anything particularly memorable.
Hyper little Max (Louis C.K.) is happy being the lone pet of sunshiney Katie (Ellie Kemper), until she brings home the gargantuan, galumphing Duke (Eric Stonestreet) one afternoon. Jealousy ensues, which leads to Max and Duke escaping their dog-walker and then stumbling upon nefarious bunny Snowball (Kevin Hart), the leader of an underground league called The Flushed Pets. Before long, Max and Duke have run afoul of Snowball, and a cross-city chase begins, involving all manner of animals, from crocodile to parakeet to iguana.
From pretty much the word go, Pets is just one, long, manic chase scene. Snowball and his goons are chasing Max and Duke, and Max and Duke’s friends are chasing after Snowball and his goons. And Max and Duke, meanwhile, are just chasing their tails trying to get back home. There are car chases, foot chases, boat chases, and even a waterslide-like chase through the New York City sewers. And they all seem to blend right together; when one ends the next one is ready and waiting in the wings.
That’s not to say there aren’t plenty of fun moments in Pets— the comedy is on par with last summer’s Minions, and the animation is as vibrant and eye-popping as you could hope for. The voice cast is also great, particularly Albert Brooks as Tiberius the falcon, and Hart is delightfully off-the-wall as the bunny. SNL alum Jenny Slate steals the show right out from under everyone as Gidget, Max’s pseudo-girlfriend Pomeranian.
Co-directors Chris Renaud (Despicable Me) and first-timer Yarrow Cheney obviously have no problem keeping up the pace, and there are even a few moments of joy to be had by the adults in the crowd, but Pets is, first and foremost, a movie for the elementary school set.
It’s a mile-a-minute, helter-skelter tilt-a-whirl that’s as frenetic as a mosquito hopped up on caffeine and sugar and more caffeine. When it’s all over you’ll need to take a breath. And though you won’t necessarily want the last ninety minutes of your life back, you might be a little too exhausted to go through it all again anytime soon.
Worth the 3D glasses?
Surprisingly (given the subject matter) there’s plenty of 3D-ness to savor, including swooping falcon flights, swirly sewer slides, and even a sausage-tastic sequence set to the Grease hit “We Go Together”. The added expense isn’t necessary, but you won’t be disappointed if you want to splurge.