By Mark Saldana

Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)

The new animated movie by Illumination Entertainment (Despicable Me, Minions)  is a highly entertaining and fun family film that is certain to leave pet owners and animal lovers in stitches.  Aside from my usual grumblings about a not-so-original plot, I actually had a great time watching this movie and it looks like I will probably select the film as my pick of the week. With hilarious humor based on the behavior of animals and a superb voice cast, The Secret Life of Pets is a film not to miss.

In Manhattan, terrier Max (Louis C.K.) happily lives a pampered life with his owner Katie (Ellie Kemper).  Max absolutely adores Katie and always patiently awaits her return from work daily.  When Katie decides to rescue a lost dog from the animal shelter, Max flips out and doesn’t know how to handle this startling new development.  The new member of the family is a large, furry Newfoundland who goes by the name Duke (Eric Stonestreet), but out of jealousy, Max doesn’t take too kindly to the clumsy and oafish dog.  When a disagreement between the two dogs gets them lost in the city, it is up to their fellow pet friends from the apartment building to rescue them and get them home before Ellie arrives.  In the meantime Duke and Max come across a gang of abandoned pets led by a white rabbit named Snowball (Kevin Hart) who make their attempts to go home even more difficult.

Writers Brian Lynch, Cinco Paul, Ken Daurio, and directors Chris Renaud and Yarrow Cheney take the basic plot of Toy Story and apply it to a comedic portrait of pet animals.   This is my biggest gripe about this movie, as I am a stickler for more originality in films.  All originality issues aside, the mostly exceptional humor and the lovable and entertaining characters make this a movie very difficult to dislike.  As I sat in the theater during the screening, I found myself smiling constantly and laughing often.  As someone who has grown up with pets, I absolutely love the humor in the movie.  The jokes and gags are based on the real behavior of animals blended with certain human traits.  Much like Toy Story, the film does teach some valuable lessons about the problems of jealousy and the value of friendship, acceptance and sharing.  This is a fun movie for the whole family to enjoy, and one from which children can learn.

As I stated above, the voice cast is tremendous and they help flesh out the animal characters wonderfully.  In addition to the excellent performances by Louis C.K., Eric Stonestreet, Ellie Kemper, and Kevin Hart, the movie also features outstanding voice work by Jenny Slate, Albert Brooks, Lake Bell, Dana Carvey, Hannibal Buress, Bobby Moynihan, and Steve Coogan.   Kevin Hart, Jenny Slate, Lake Bell, and Dana Carvey definitely stand-out as some of my favorite memorable characters in the film.  They have the perfect, versatile voices for animated pet characters.

And because these characters are so lovable (even the villains), I would love for Illumination Entertainment to produce a sequel.  I would strongly recommend that the writers put more effort into developing a story and plot that doesn’t feel lifted from another, slightly better movie.  With characters as rich as the ones in this first film,  the filmmakers could do much better with a fresh and more inventive story that could set this franchise apart from its inspiration.  Either way, this first entry has enough going for it for me to highly recommend it to all my readers who enjoy amusing family fare of the animated variety.

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