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'The Secret Life of Pets' is doggone good

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Animated family film has plenty of humor, heart

Sometimes, a movie comes along that you just know you're going to like. Maybe it's the filmmaker or the subject matter. Maybe it's just the trailer. Whatever the reason, you are absolutely certain that you are going to enjoy the film.

There was never any doubt that I was going to like 'The Secret Life of Pets.'

Come on I'm an avid pet enthusiast with a soft spot for animated fare who also happens to be easily manipulated emotionally. They couldn't have come up with a movie more suited to appeal to me in a lab. So I went into Universal's latest animated offering well aware that I was going to dig it; the only question would be how much.

Quite a lot, as it turns out. 'The Secret Life of Pets' is a wonderfully warmhearted and occasionally weird adventure with a talented cast and a sense of humor that will resonate with viewers of all ages.

Max (Louis C.K., TV's 'Horace and Pete') is the luckiest dog in Manhattan. He and his master Katie (Ellie Kemper, TV's 'Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt') have a great relationship. He's got fellow pet friends all over the neighborhood the indifferent cat Chloe (Lake Bell, 'No Escape'), the excitable pug Mel (Bobby Moynihan), the fearful dachshund Buddy (Hannibal Burress, 'The Nice Guys') and the starry-eyed Gidget (Jenny Slate, 'Zootopia'), who bears an unrequited crush on Max.

However, Max's charmed life changes when Katie brings home another dog, a big clumsy mutt named Duke (Eric Stonestreet, TV's 'Modern Family'). His once-idyllic existence is thrown into disarray, leaving Max to plot ways of getting rid of the unwanted addition.

Said plotting results in Max and Duke getting lost and captured by Animal Control. However, they are 'rescued' by an adorably fluffy white bunny named Snowball (Kevin Hart, 'Central Intelligence') who immediately inducts them into his underground organization devoted to vengeance against their former owners.

Meanwhile, Gidget has enlisted the gang as well as a rooftop hawk named Tiberius (Albert Brooks, 'Finding Dory') and an elderly hound named Pops (Dana Carvey, 'Hotel Transylvania 2') to track down and rescue Max from whatever dangers have befallen him.

Of course, Max and Duke must work together in order to escape the clutches of Snowball, avoid capture by Animal Control and find their way back to the warm embrace of Katie's apartment. If they can overcome their mutual antipathy, they might just make it.

(You can probably guess how it works out.)

Creating quality family-friendly fare is a tricky business. Speaking to young viewers without condescending to or underestimating them isn't easy. 'The Secret Life of Pets' does well with this if nothing else, it's a heck of a lot smarter and subtler than Universal's previous offering 'Minions.' It's got a very sweet, simple message, but it also has plenty of funny gags and some solid action sequences. Plus, there's more than enough to engage adult viewers right alongside the sure-to-be-delighted children (although again I was pretty much in the bag for this from the get-go).

It's a beautifully animated film the characters are expressive and the environments are evocative. Great chase scenes and vivid sight gags; there's even a big old-fashioned production number set in a sausage factory. Basically, it's pretty fun to look at.

And the talent of the voice cast is undeniable. Louis C.K. is oddly apt as Max, offering up more overt emotional interaction than we usually get from him. Stonestreet makes a strong comic foil, shaggy good nature masking inner struggles. The two of them together make a great team. Slate is wonderful as Gidget, powering the proceedings with a relentless positivity. Bell manages to make indifference engaging, which is no easy task.

And Hart is just fantastic as Snowball. Here's the thing we all know the Kevin Hart bubble is going to burst someday, but right now, when he's on, he's ON. It makes sense that he's great here the guy is practically a cartoon already, after all but he's having the most fun of anybody in a cast where everybody is pretty clearly having fun.

This isn't the best animated film of the summer that honor belongs to 'Finding Dory' but the surprising closeness of that race shows the progress that Universal's animated fare is making.

I was always going to like 'The Secret Life of Pets,' but happily, it gave me reason to kind of fall in love with it a little.

[5 out of 5]

Last modified on Tuesday, 31 January 2017 19:43

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