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The Secret Life of Pets **

Cute pets are not enough to save this animated comedy's labored story.

Is it worth $10? No

I am not a pet lover.

This matters with “The Secret Life of Pets” because a good amount of the film depicts dogs doing “dog” things and various other animals representing their species in an appropriate fashion. Pet lovers will naturally recognize the behavior and find humor in its depiction, while others (like me) will only be mildly amused.

Pet adoration aside, objective analysis yields this: Whereas a better film such as “Zootopia” used animals’ characteristics as part of their personalities, here they’re part of the same old tiresome punch line.



So ha! Dogs hate squirrels. And haha! Plump cats try to fit in small boxes and chase laser lights. These are all variations on jokes we’ve seen done better before, and with a story that gets away from directors Chris Renaud (“Despicable Me”) and Yarrow Cheney, the whole movie feels like a lost puppy that can’t find his way home.

The film takes the premise of “Toy Story” and warps it into a misshapen, ill-advised buddy comedy. Max (voice of Louis C.K.) is a happy Jack Russell Terrier in New York City with his owner Katie (Ellie Kemper). Things change, however, when Katie brings home a Newfoundland named Duke (Eric Stonestreet) and expects them to get along. They don’t. It’s so bad that they try to get the other lost while on a walk, which ends up getting both of them lost.

As Animal Control trucks roam the city, Max and Duke are caught up with an underground society run by a crazed rabbit named Snowball (Kevin Hart), who hates domesticated pets and humans. Meanwhile, the rescue efforts are on compliments of other pets in Max’s building: dogs Gidget (Jenny Slate), Mel (Bobby Moynihan), and Buddy (Hannibal Buress), cat Chloe (Lake Bell), a bird named Sweet Pea (Tara Strong) and a hungry hawk named Tiberius (Albert Brooks).



In an odd way the adventures through New York City make the film feel like a sequel rather than an original work. To explain: The idea behind the title suggests what pets do when their owners are away. This allows for any number of possibilities as the pets in Katie’s apartment complex mingle (they could get lost in the building, etc.), all with the understanding that they need to be back and waiting for their owners by the door when the humans return. It’s a limited scale but full of possibilities. Instead the filmmakers have given us something we might see in a sequel: The scope is notably expanded to an adventure all over, high above and deep below, New York City, and it feels like they’re trying too hard. The appeal of “The Secret Life of Pets” isn’t the size of the adventure, it’s cute animals dealing with human problems.

To be fair, the animation is fine and some of the action pieces are nicely rendered, but it’s not done well enough to overcome the misshapen story. Animal lovers will be more forgiving, but that doesn’t mean “The Secret Life of Pets” works as well as it should.

Did you know?
The film is preceded by the animated short “Mower’s Minions,” in which the Minions strive to earn $20 by mowing lawns so they can buy a blender. Both “The Secret Life of Pets” and the Minions are products of Illumination Entertainment.