“Death’s coming to Brooklyn, and he’s got buck teeth and a cottontail,” says Snowball.
Illumination Entertainment has been very successful financially in the last few years producing animated films such as the very entertaining (and Oscar-nominated) Despicable Me (which I’ve seen on the big screen in 3D) and its sequel Despicable Me 2 (which I still have not been able to see), as well as 2012’s disappointing The Lorax and last year’s disappointing Despicable Me spinoff/prequel Minions. Illumination bounced back this year with Chris Renaud’s acclaimed The Secret Life of Pets. This film marked the first time I ever loved a film so much but hated the tag line so, so much more (“Wonder what they do all day?”, to which I yell, “No!”). Nevertheless, the pets in this film are quite a mix of quirky characters that you can’t help but be interested in what they do all day. I recently saw Renaud’s The Secret Life of Pets on the big screen, and it was a very enjoyable experience (the animated short that preceded the film, Mower Minions, was also hilarious).
2016’s The Secret Life of Pets follows a terrier named Max, whose life is turned upside down when his owner takes in a stray dog named Duke. After they try to get rid of each other, they end up being captured by Animal Control but mange to escape. Max’s pet friends launch a rescue effort to find him, while Max and Duke struggle to get along while trying to find their way back home. Renaud gathered together an excellent voice cast that includes Louis C.K. (as Max), Eric Stonestreet (as Duke), Kevin Hart (as Snowball), Jenny Slate (as Gidget), Ellie Kemper (as Katie), Bobby Moynihan (as Mel), Lake Bell (as Chloe), Dana Carvey (as Pops), Hannibal Buress (as Buddy), Steve Coogan (as Ozone and Reginald), Albert Brooks (as Tiberius), Tara Strong (as Sweet Pea), Renaud (as Norman), Michael Beatty (as Tattoo), and Laraine Newman (as Chloe’s owner). C.K. and Stonestreet work well together, while Hart (as a cut, white bunny) steals every scene he’s in. Slate is adorable as Max’s neighbor who secretly has a crush on him, and Brooks is another scene stealer as a red-tailed hawk who doesn’t get out much. Carvey is also memorable as an old, semi-paralyzed dog who knows his way around Manhattan.
The screenplay by Cinco Paul, Ken Daurio, and Brian Lynch presents a compelling journey shared by two very different dogs (there was clearly some inspiration from Toy Story and Looney Tunes) while throwing many quirky pets and a ton of humor. One of the film’s biggest highlights is a Dumbo-inspired dream sequence with Max and Duke at a sausage factory in Brooklyn, in which sausages are singing We Go Together (a song from 1978’s Grease). The production design by Eric Guillon recreates sunny, sleek versions of Manhattan and Brooklyn. The CG animation is beautifully rendered, and Ken Schretzmann’s editing moves the film at a good pace. Alexandre Desplat delivers an entertaining, jazzy score reminiscent of 1950s jazz scores. Renaud’s The Secret Life of Pets is an entertaining, touching animated film filled with adorable, quirky pets.