The Secret Life of Pets reviewed – a cute, fun time-filler for kids and adults

Although most of the world has seen it by now, The Secret Life of Pets finally opens in South Africa today, to coincide with the start of the Spring school vacation. Just as overseas, the family comedy is sure to be a mammoth hit. Not only did the initial teaser trailer essentially go viral, but animation company Illumination Entertainment knows what people like, and the film is preceded by a brand new Minions short – featuring Illumination’s most popular characters.

Right, but is main attraction The Secret Life of Pets any good?

Absolutely. It’s unlikely to go on the All-time Animated Classics list, but the film offers a little something for everyone – whether you’re planning a cinema outing with the sprogs, just generally enjoy animated films, or have a furkid at home.

In terms of plot, The Secret Life of Pets focuses primarily on the inhabitants of one New York apartment block. Jack Russell Max (voiced by Louis C.K.) is the resident top dog, relishing the bond he has with his owner Katie. Max’s idyllic life and status is threatened though when Katie brings home shaggy rescue mutt Duke (Eric Stonestreet). The dogs refuse to get along, one thing leads to another, and soon they’re lost on the streets. While their friends mount a search, the pair find themselves pursued by a band of vengeful, abandoned pets, led by maniacal bunny Snowball (Kevin Hart). Working together may be Max and Duke’s only chance at survival.

Now if you’re looking for something a little “deeper”, be aware that The Secret Life of Pets is content to cruise along the surface. It doesn’t offer the poignancy or quiet contemplation of a Pixar movie, for example, except in one notable instance. However, as light, breezy entertainment – with no other ambitions but to produce a chuckle and keep viewers engrossed for 90 minutes – it’s a solid choice.

The Secret Life of Pets is clever (without being spikey), fun (without straining for a gag), cute and colourful. Its makers know what audiences respond to in terms of mainstream Western animation, and they deliver with this madcap adventure. Best of all, it’s consistently high energy without crossing the line into irritating hyperactivity. It also never insults your intelligence.

The Secret Life of Pets is at its strongest when simply exposing the comical misbehaviour of our animal companions as soon as we’re out the house. The film features a large cast of quirky characters, though adults in the audience are likely to gravitate especially towards geriatric basset hound Pops (Dana Carvey), and Chloe (Lake Bell), an overweight, apathetic cat who gets most of the film’s sharpest lines.

And that’s really The Secret Life of Pets in a nutshell. It may not top Zootopia (my review) for smarts or Kubo and the Two Strings (my review) for heart, but of this year’s animated releases, it’s a slickly made and satisfying diversion for animal lovers of all ages.

3.5 stars out of 5.


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