If you ever feel guilty about leaving the family dog at home, The Secret Life of Pets may or may not make you feel better about what Fido does after you shut the door. Max (Louis C.K., who you may have heard of) and Duke (Eric Stonestreet, the huskier of Lily’s dads on Modern Family) voice the starring mutts; Kevin Hart (the short loud guy in every comedy produced between 2013 and today) plays an evil bunny rabbit leading a cult of abandoned pets (“The Flushed”); and Ellie Kemper, Lake Bell, Jenny Slate, Bobby Moynihan, Hannibal Buress and Albert Brooks round out the supporting cast of furry friends and clueless humans.
The movie is produced by the same people responsible for those little yellow Minion guys all over your house and, on paper it sounds kind of perfect for families. But, before you go making any assumptions, here’s what the critics are saying.
For Kids: Kids’ movies typically have some life lessons in them, which kids typically don’t really care about. What your kid needs to know is that it “[delivers] brilliantly when it comes to visual jokes, action set pieces, physical comedy and unabashed silliness,” according to Wendy Ide, a critic for the Observer UK. But, if your kid is hardwired to look for the summary moral of the story (thanks, Disney), Raakhee Mirchandani of the NY Daily News says it also “… makes the case for how people treat pets — humans are known to flush unwanted snakes or fish and ‘free’ birds or rabbits … it’s a good lesson for kids and the adults who purchase the animals.” Deborah Ross at The Spectator is less kind, giving a scathing review particularly focused on the NYC dog owners who leave their pets alone all day long, but admits “the 6-year-old ‘loved it’.”
For You: The adult-minded critics are chasing their tails with this one, praising the cast but criticising the story as a Buzz and Woody knock-off. “It might be derivative — sort of a Toy Story with fur — but there’s a lot to like here: the humor, the heart, the artistry, the mercifully brisk 90-minute run time,” says Mike Scott, Times-Picayune. Jonathan Pile of Empire Magazine says it’s “An affable adventure with a strong voice cast,” and “What it lacks in originality, it claws back with strong visual gags and a witty script.” But those who hated it, hated it hard: The condensed Rotten Tomatoes review from Roger Moore of Movie Nation can’t even be bothered to say more than one word: “Tolerable.”
Bottom Line: As Bilge Ebiri of the Village Voice writes, “The Secret Life of Pets is an ADD-addled mess of a movie — and that, amazingly, is its charm.” If you and your kid love action, animals, Toy Story, and consider imitation the sincerest form of flattery, it seems like there’s enough stuff here to be worth your Fandango gift card bucks — even if the plot does pull a little hard at the leash. See what he did there?
Rating: PG (for action and some crude humor)
Running Time: 90 minutes