They're the scenes every dog owner pictures when they leave their beloved pooch home alone. Maybe their loyal canine sits by the door, pining for human company. Maybe the crafty critter jumps on the furniture and makes a mess. Maybe it does a bit of both. With an excellent understanding of the bond between people and their furry companions, The Secret Life of Pets turns these imaginings into an animated adventure. If Toy Story swapped kids' playthings for the dogs, cats, birds and bunnies (and assorted other animals) that people of all ages adore, this highly entertaining movie would be the end result.
Terrier Max (voiced by Louis C.K.) is the apple of his owner Katie's (Ellie Kemper) eye. Or least he is, until she brings him home a shaggy rescue mutt as a brother. Not only is Duke (Eric Stonestreet) bigger, he's determined to take Max's bed, his food bowl, and – the smaller dog worries – his place in Katie's heart. Before long, the tussle between the unhappy new housemates spills onto the streets during their daily walk, with the duo soon finding themselves scooped up by dog-catchers. Enter former magician's rabbit Snowball (Kevin Hart) and his motley crew of discarded beasts, who not only prove skilled at escaping to their secret underground lair, but are also plotting to overthrow humanity.
There's knowing humour in everything Despicable Me director Chris Renaud and his co-helmer Yarrow Cheney assemble in this jovial animal jaunt, with the script from fellow Despicable alums revelling in anarchic but endearing comedy that trickles down to the smallest details. And it really is the little things that help The Secret Life of Pets showcase its modest charms, as demonstrated by the supporting characters. Both nodding to and twisting stereotypical traits and behaviours, the film features everything from a hamster (voiced by Renaud) who can't find his way out of a building's vents, to a pampered Pomeranian (Jenny Slate) who turns feisty when she discovers that Max is in trouble.
More quirky creatures pop up, sporting recognisable celebrity tones, including Lake Bell as a cat, Hannibal Buress as a dachshund and Albert Brooks as a grumpy hawk. Each inspires a few funny sequences and sight gags, in a film that's otherwise content with the usual pop-friendly soundtrack, pop culture references and riffs on other movies. Indeed, with an action-packed homewards trek that's reminiscent of Finding Dory, and a wiener-oriented musical number that's better than anything in Sausage Party, much about The Secret Life of Pets feels familiar. There are no Zootopia-like musings about diversity and acceptance here — but there is a whole lot of awww-inducing love.
Such fuzzy feelings will no doubt help viewers in overlooking the film's flaws. This is a movie that's as swift as a dog chasing a ball, as light as a budgie fluttering around an apartment, and as cute as an over-fed cat lounging in the sun. And, for its brief 87 minutes, that's mostly enough. Just make sure you leave time to visit a pet store after the movie, or scurry home to hug the four-legged friends you already have.