[Screen It]


(2016) (voices of Louis C.K., Eric Stonestreet) (PG)

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Computer-Animated Comedy: A dog's life is upended when a new pet in his home results in an adventurous time in and under New York City.
Max (voice of LOUIS C.K.) is a terrier who lives in a Manhattan apartment with his owner, Katie (voice of ELLIE KEMPER), who he hates to see leave and is overjoyed whenever she returns. In between then, he enjoys spending time with neighboring animals. They include Gidget (voice of JENNY SLATE), a white Pomeranian who has a secret crush on him; Chloe (voice of LAKE BELL), an overweight cat who sort of likes Max as a friend; pug Mel (voice of BOBBY MOYNIHAN); dachshund Buddy (voice of HANNIBAL BURESS); and guinea pig Norman (voice of CHRIS RENAUD) who's roaming the building's vent shafts trying to find his way home.

Max enjoys his life, but that's disrupted when Katie brings home Duke (voice of ERIC STONESTREET) from the pound. He's a huge, hairy dog, and it doesn't take long before he establishes himself as the alpha dog in the family. Max soon figures out how to put him in his place, but Duke retaliates by dragging Max deep into an alley where scarred alley cat Ozone (voice of STEVE COOGAN) and his pride of fellow cats give them a scare. But not as much as some animal control officers who snag Max and Duke.

It's not long before they're freed, however, by a diminutive but forceful bunny named Snowball (voice of KEVIN HART) and his heavily tattooed and pierced pig enforcer, Tattoo (voice of MICHAEL BEATTIE). Snowball and his band of "flushed pets" are plotting to overthrow their former owners and the rest of the humans, and try to initiate Max and Duke into their gang, but the two escape, although they end up in Brooklyn, with Snowball determined to get even with them.

At the same time, Gidget has realized that Max has gone missing and ends up forming an unlikely alliance with a hungry Hawk, Tiberius (voice of ALBERT BROOKS). They eventually join forces with an old and partially paralyzed beagle, Pops (voice of DANA CARVEY), who leads them through the city to help out on the rescue mission. With Max and Duke now having turned into allies, the two dogs do what they can to avoid Snowball, and animal control officers, as they try to make their way home.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
Like many a pet owner, I've often wondered what our cat does while we're away from home. Does she pace around anxiously wondering where we went, when we'll return and perhaps worry that we might not ever? Perhaps she races around the house with free abandon, or maybe she finds the catnip and partakes in a little (or a lot).

More than likely, she probably just spends most of the time sleeping, what with being a cat and that's what they're prone to do whether we're home or not. Dogs, on the other hand, often whimper, bark and howl when their owners are away (having heard this from personal experience), and I hear that others are sometimes destructive (as attested by people who return home to find furniture, bedding, papers and what have you torn up and strewn about the place.

I've often pondered setting up a webcam to see what really happens, but that would likely either be sad (if little Gracie appears that way) or boring (again, being a cat and all). Hopefully, it wouldn't be anything akin to what transpires in "The Secret Life of Pets," the latest computer-animated comedy from the studio behind "Despicable Me," the Minions and more.

The film's initial commercials caught the eye and fancy of the public by showing otherwise normal pets acting up (most notably a poodle turning into a heavy metal head banger) once their owners left the premises. Directors Chris Renaud and Yarrow Cheney and screenwriters Brian Lynch, Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio start off the film that way, but quickly abandon cute, funny and quirky little bits of humor in favor of a more encompassing action storyline.

It starts with Max (voice of Louis C.K.) who lives in an apartment with his owner (voice of Ellie Kemper) in New York City, and socializes with a number of nearby pets -- Gidget, Chloe, Mel and Buddy (voiced respectively by Jenny Slate, Lake Bell, Bobby Moynihan and Hannibal Buress) -- when Katie leaves for work. Things are peachy keen, that is, until she returns with a new dog (voiced by Eric Stonestreet) who quickly establishes himself at the top of the pecking order, so to speak. Max figures out a way to best him, but the new dog drags him into a city alley where there's an encounter with a battle-scarred alley cat (voiced by Steve Coogan), some human animal control officers, and a cute little bunny (voice of Kevin Hart) who's trying to lead a revolution where discarded animals overthrow their former human owners.

When Gidget realizes Max (the love of her life, even if he doesn't have any inklings of her feelings that have been fueled by watching soap operas on TV) is missing, she sets out to find him, not only with the help of her fellow pet friends, but also a hawk (voiced by Albert Brooks, getting two prime animated jobs this summer with this and "Finding Dory") who must refrain from eating his new animal associates.

That's peppered with lots of slapstick style action, some sequences of peril, various comedy bits, some heartwarming (and brief heartbreaking) moments and a bizarre, sausage-gorging hallucination featuring the catchy "We Go Together" song from "Grease." It's not quite up to Pixar snuff in terms of combining all of that, but it's still entertaining enough to watch, particularly in regards to capturing the familiar (and often funny) mannerisms of our furry friends and the bond between humans and their pets.

The animation is gorgeous to the eye, while the vocal work is excellent, with Hart probably having the most fun as the diminutive but militant, chatterbox rabbit (who, if the species matched, would be some distant but angrier relative to Eddie Murphy's Donkey from the "Shrek" movies). The script, though, underwhelms during all of the chase and action scenes.

The film works best in its smaller moments and capturing the essence of how pets behave, but overall it's still enjoyable and entertaining for viewers young and old. Just don't let your pets watch this or they might get ideas what to do when you're not home. "The Secret Life of Pets" rates as a 6 out of 10.

Reviewed July 5, 2016 / Posted July 8, 2016

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