Louis CK is not an obvious choice to headline an animated children’s film in the Toy Story mold about what our pets do all day while we’re not home. But his is the leading voice in The Secret Life of Pets, in which he portrays Max, a little dog who loves his life with his human, Katie (Ellie Kemper). Max’s life is perfect, so naturally Katie brings home a second dog, a shaggy monster named Duke (Eric Stonestreet). The two dogs do not get along, and their contentious relationship ends up costing them their comfy digs with Katie. The movie is basically Baby’s Day Out except actually good and funny and featuring cartoon pets instead of a baby.
The voice cast, headed by CK, Stonestreet, and Jenny Slate as a pampered Pomeranian called Gidget, is stacked deep with comedic talent, and the jokes run the gamut from broad, slapstick pratfalls to pop culture digs planted for the parents. There’s a little bit of something for everyone, which guarantees Pets will be a crowd-pleaser. It’s not all that deep, favoring slapstick set pieces over cohesive themes, but that’s fine. Not everything has to be top shelf Pixar, and Pets is really good at being a funny, family-oriented cartoon. It’s certainly far better than Minions, which is produced by the same studio.
Most of the movie takes place over one day, after Max and Duke get lost in New York City and have to try and navigate their way home. (It’s reminiscent of Shaun the Sheep, though it’s way more conventional.) The two dogs run afoul of a pack of human-hating “flushed pets” led by deranged bunny rabbit Snowball (Kevin Hart), as well as a pair of animal control officers. Between this and Shaun the Sheep, I’m concerned we’re conditioning a generation of kids to see animal control as incompetent, pet-snatching monsters.
My only real complaint about Pets is all the BLATANT ANTI-CAT PROPAGANDA. Every cat in Pets, even Max’s friend-cat, Chloe (Lake Bell), is an asshole. As a cat owner, I was offended on behalf of cats everywhere, and most especially on behalf of my own cat, who is not an asshole but is a fluffy pile of cute that only scratches me some of the times and bites me almost never. (Lainey: this is what Sarah and Taylor Swift have in common.)
Strange anti-cat agenda aside, Pets is good old-fashioned cartoon slapstick. It’s mostly just cute animals trundling from one improbable set piece to another, connected by the barest of plots. It’s carried along by the charisma of the voice cast—seriously, not enough can be said about how perfect Jenny Slate is, or the unexpected delight of Albert Brooks—and a genuine, boisterous sense of fun. This is a FUN movie, with a warm-hearted center that will undoubtedly inspire many children to beg their parents for a dog. The Secret Life of Pets doesn’t have the gravitas of Inside Out or the relevancy of Zootopia, but it’s a super charming, genuinely funny movie all the same.
Parental Warning: There’s a bit with a snake that is scary enough to set off the littlest tots.