Cast: (voiced by) Louis CK, Kevin Hart, Eric Stonestreet, Jenny Slate, Ellie Kemper, Lake Bell, Dana Carvey, Hannibal Buress, Bobby Moynihan, Steve Coogan, Albert Brooks
Director: Chris Renaud & Yarrow Cheney
The Secret Life of Pets is a toon to watch: it has roguish charm and fickleness, absurdity and lucidity. Actually, it was hard for me to see it purely as a toon as it holds up a mirror to the struggle between our divided natures (using pets as metaphor) and society at large.
There’s a revelatory gesture towards this and it comes in an interesting bow-wow, sorry pow-wow between clever terrier Max (Louis CK) and feral (ha ha) rabbit Snowball (Hart). As the underworld denizen tells the law abiding urban doggie something to the effect of, “We are bad by nature…” Nonsense. We always have a choice. Now let me explain the ha ha in parenthesis. Rabbits can only be cuddly-wuddly Easter bunnies or hot if you know what I mean, but feral?
As it happens, the ferocity of this anti-hero is all of a piece with his headship of abandoned pets and a murderous band of beasts whose choice of habitat is the sewer where they plot revenge on happy pets and their owners. Here, Fang and Claw exemplify Rabbit and such creatures as alligators/snakes etc) whereas civil domestication is represented by Max, shaggy dog Duke (Stonestreet) and their new found ally, Pops (Carvey) an old codger who shows age and disability are no match for resourcefulness.
There are lots of laughs as animal control vans enter the fray with a cute Pomeranian named Gidget in hot pursuit of Max. But small children may get unnerved by the rabble residing in the dank netherworld, especially the gigantic CGI snake. And then there is Tiberius (Brooks), the hawk whose attempts to satiate his non veg diet are inadvertently thwarted by the canines. Fear and tension, palpable in Max & Co on the verge of undergoing a reptilian rite of initiation, could seep into little viewers too alongside salutary lessons in sacrifice and acceptance of new arrivals in the home.
But all is well in due course as our four-footed furry friends win the day and even persuade the sociopath creatures to acknowledge the joys of a human security blanket (where they behave exactly like the teens in the absence of parents). All woofed and meowed then, The Secret Life of Pets is heart-warming treat with great voice-overs and wonderful animation.