The Secret Life of Pets (2016)

Movie Info

Movie Info

Chris Renaud and Yarrow Cheney
Run Time
1 hour and 27 minutes

VP Content Ratings

Sex & Nudity
Star Rating
★★★★4 out of 5

Rated PG. Running time: 1 hour 27 min.

Our content ratings (1-10): Violence 2; Language 0; Sex/Nudity 1.

Our star rating (1-5): 4

Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

Hebrews 13:16


You don’t have to be a pet owner to enjoy this Japanese-American animated fable, purporting to reveal what pets do when their owners walk out the door to go to work. The story at times is a madcap adventure akin to the old Looney Tune shorts, and the animation is superb, the film opening with a brief aerial tour of Manhattan, starting with a fly-by of the Statue of Liberty, and then descending to the streets and alleys of the city.

We are introduced to a menagerie of pets– Max (voiced by Louis C.K.), a little terrier spending most of his day sitting in front of the door for his mistress to return (and wondering what do humans DO all day while they are away); Chloe (Lake Bell), a fat cat upstairs, battling  the temptation of a roast chicken in the fridge; Gidget (Jenny Slate), a white Pomeranian dog, watching soap operas and yearning for Max; Buddy (Hannibal Buress), a dachshund using an electric mixer to massage his back; and more. One of the delightful aspects of their depiction is that although they can talk, they retain their characteristics we recognize—Max loves to run and fetch balls and drink out of the toilet; and Chloe chases around the room a spot of reflected light from a set of keys held by a mischievous creature.

The story begins when Max, waiting at the door for his beloved owner Katie (Ellie Kemper) to return, is shaken when this time she introduces him to Duke (Eric Stonestreet), a large shaggy brown dog that is several times the size of the terrier. Max cannot understand how Katie could expect him to share the apartment with the newcomer. When Max rebuffs Duke, the over-size mutt bullies his way into Max’s dog bed and helps himself to the contents of Max’s dog dish as well as his own. The feud between Max and Duke escalates, leading to their being locked out of the apartment. On the streets they have to outrun animal control officers, and far worse, a dangerous band of Flushed Out Pets existing below ground in a cavernous sewer.

The Flushed Out animals, some of which—turtles, fish, sea monkeys, snakes, and one time tiny alligators—literally were flushed down a toilet by owners tired of the responsibility of caring for them, whereas others were simply turned loose in the street. Each has its own sad story of abandonment. The band is led by an adorable looking white rabbit named Snowball (Kevin Hart), whose smallness made him suitable for his owner, a magician, to pull out of his hat. Now the little rabbit hates humanity with a maniacal fury and plots with his band a revolution against humanity.

When Max and Duke fall into their hands, or paws and flippers, they manage to convince their captors that they too hate their owners. But this ruse ends when they accidentally kill the huge viper, and have to flee. Above ground again they also have to cope with Animal Control nets.

Meanwhile Gidget, missing Max, gathers a posse to go out and search for him. Among the recruits are an old Bassett Hound named Pops (Dana Carvey) whose back half is paralyzed so that a pair of wheels are attached, and Tiberius (Albert Brooks), a red-tailed hawk whom Gidget has to convince not to eat her or her friends. When she meets up with Snowball and company, her love for Max transforms her into a furious Kung-Fu warrior bent on protecting her own.

Except for the violent death of the huge viper in a Looney Tune-like episode, this film is suitable for kids and adults of all ages. The Flushed Out animals provide adults with an opportunity to talk about the responsibilities of pet ownership and the sad fate of abandoned pets. This funny little cartoon film thus deals with a real problem, the abandonment of literally millions of pet animals each year. But of course, the prime lesson is in Max and Duke’s overcoming their hostility toward each other. Max, especially, must learn that love is one thing that is not limited, but grows with the number of relationships involved. This is something that human children also must learn, a single child having to learn to share parents’ attention with the birth of a sister or brother. Sharing the love of another is often not easy, but as the film demonstrates, the rewards are so much greater when love is shared. Pet owners, who often go to extremes in anthropomorphizing their pets, might even want to get the DVD of this and watch it with their little darling(s).

This review with a set of discussion questions will be in the August issue of VP.

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