Watching “The Secret Life of Pets” is like stepping inside an animated picture book, reveling in the playfully absurd riot that erupts in a household when the new baby arrives.
Except that in this one, the mom is a millennial. Both her new baby and her displaced firstborn are talking mutts.
Max, the top dog, is a quick-witted Jack Russel terrier at the center of owner Katie’s universe, who finds his pampered life turned upside down when she adopts Duke, a rescue from the dog pound, a massive shaggy mongrel without tact.
Of course, true to its title, the movie tells the story of how our companions of every stripe, fur and feather spend their time when their humans leave for work or school and they’re home alone in Manhattan, free to do as they desire.
Part of their nine-to-five routine consists of raiding the ref, drinking from the toilet bowl, using the electric mixer in the kitchen for body massage, sneaking off to hang out with each other, trading gossips about their owners, dancing, flirting, partying, auditioning adorable looks to get better snacks and watching Animal Planet like it’s reality TV.
But the moment their two-footed owners go home, they pretend they’ve done nothing all day except wait for their humans’ return.
Things become complicated when Max and Duke suddenly found themselves lost in the mean streets of New York and end up in the clutches of Snowball, a fluffy yet deranged bunny building an army of Flushed Pets abandoned by their owners.
Overall, the movie has lots of laughs and lots of heart.
The rest of the cast includes Gidget the lovestruck Pomeranian, Tiberius – a grumpy, sharp-witted, red-tailed hawk, Pops – an old Basset Hound with wheels for hind legs, obese cat Chloe and sarcastic Dachshund Buddy, excitable Pug – Mel, fearless Budgie- Sweetpea, Leonard, the posh punk Poodle with a penchant for hard rock, Norman, the pea-brained guinea pig, Tattoo – a pot-bellied pig used for inking practice at a tattoo parlor and Snowball’s sidekicks – Crocodile and Dragon, as well as Ozone, the alley cat with an attitude.
“The inspiration behind Pets was all of the pets that my family and I have owned since I was a kid,” revealed Chris Meledandri, founder and CEO of Illumination Entertainment. “We’re fascinated with their inner lives and highly curious about what they’re doing and thinking when we’re not around.”
“We project so much character onto our pets—the things we want them to be,” co-producer Janet Healy acknowledged. “Even when those qualities aren’t there, we continue to feel that they have this secret, full life that we’re not a part of.”
“When we leave for work or school in the morning, we are essentially handing over the keys to our pets. It is now their place, and for this universe we imagine that they have their own daily routines, just like humans,” added Co-director Yarrow Cheney.
Still, I wish the film makers have fully exploited the megacity setting and given the felines bigger parts.
Without doubt, it’s a dog story and could have been titled “The Secret Life of Dogs in the Big Apple with a Scene-stealing Bunny” more fittingly.
Nothing wrong about dogs, really. I’ve been owned by many. I lived in a household with a dozen canines mixed up with a dozen felines throughout my childhood though I remained an avid cat person through and through.
It’s just that dogs are too servile for me, too easy to get, too eager to please. I found the nonchalance of cats, their mystique and glamor more intriguing.
And while “The Secret Life of Pets” amused me, I daresay, I’d very much love to see a sequel – an animation movie about the secret life of cats – in the Big Apple and beyond.