Do you ever wonder what your pets do when you’re not at home?
Sometimes, the answer is easy when you arrive back at su casa to discover your shoes chewed up or a large pile of cat yak in such an inconspicuous spot that your bare foot is what discovers it. But, sometimes, those big eyes that stare so adoringly make you wonder what secrets they’re hiding.
I’m a firm believer that animals have as much depth and personality as humans. They can get bored, be mischievous, love with as big a heart and display so many more attributes that a lot of people believe to be traits exclusive to human beings.
Take my calico cat, Mia, for example. We’ve been together for 11 and a half years, and she’s more of a roommate than a pet. Aside from an inability to talk, I’ve never seen a pet be quite so, well, human.
I’m pretty certain her home-alone habits include sleeping the entire day, but do we really know what our pets are doing when we’re away?
“The Secret Life of Pets” explores that very question and comes up with lots of possibilities in a sweet, cute and funny way.
Max (Louis C.K.) has a quiet, happy life with his person, Katie (Ellie Kemper). It’s a perfect match until Katie brings home Duke (Eric Stonestreet), a behemoth of a dog she found at the pound. Max worries that Duke’s enormous size will not only fill his home but Katie’s heart as well, so the two butt heads and plot to be the top dog — I couldn’t resist — of Katie’s life and home.
After all, Max had a good thing going. He and Katie spend quality time together, and each day, he sits patiently at the door waiting for her to come back. It’s a scene that’s actually pretty sad, to be honest. Duke doesn’t fit into that plan, at all.
Max isn’t the only one who has a routine, though. There’s Chloe the cat (Lake Bell) who raids the fridge as soon as her person leaves. A pug named Mel (Bobby Moynihan) fights a daily battle against the squirrels outside his window. A white Pomeranian named Gidget (Jenny Slate) passes her day dreaming about Max and watching telenovelas. These are only a few of the critters whose daily lives are explored.
The real meat of the story comes when an attempt to get rid of Max once and for all lands him and Duke in the custody of animal control. The two are broken out by Snowball (Kevin Hart), a crazed rabbit who leads a pack of feral animals called “The Flushed Pets.” They’re a group of former pets who were either abandoned or mistreated by their former owners and now seek vengeance on the whole human race. Chaos ensues when the group turns on Max and Duke after one of their members is accidentally killed.
Meanwhile, Gidget is leading a group of pets on a rescue mission to save the unrequited love of her life. Her seriously underprepared team is joined by a hawk named Tiberius (Albert Brooks) and a paralyzed, elderly basset hound named Pops (Dana Carvey, a man I didn’t even realize was still acting.)
So, in case you couldn’t tell, there’s A LOT going on in this one. But, it works. Snowball may seem like a rabbit who needs a Xanax, but Hart and the designers nailed this one. Snowball is absolutely adorable but also completely insane. He’s a bit of a trainwreck, but you can’t turn away.
That’s not to say the rest of the cast aren’t just as talented. My personal favorite is Slate’s Gidget. She’s a puffball that can go from sweet, demure girly girl to fur of fury when Max is threatened. Seriously, watching her go Chuck Norris when she needs to is crazy fun to watch.
And that’s part of the beauty of “The Secret Life of Pets.” It’s a lot of fun to watch. There are plenty of moments to keep you thrilled and make you laugh. But, the film isn’t all fun and games.
Honestly, it’s a little sad, too. Snowball and his cohorts have been created by the jackassery of humans. Snowball was a magician’s assistant until rabbits in hats went out of style. His henchman, Tattoo, is a pig that belonged to a tattoo artist and was used for practice until he ran out of room. That kind of thing will probably go over a child’s head, but it makes me cringe.
There are little moments like that throughout the film, like when one of the Flushed Pets is killed. It’s done kind of comically, but it’s still a character dying violently in a kid’s movie. Or, there’s Pops, the paralyzed basset hound. His front legs work, but his back half is strapped onto wheels. His age is noted as well, when he tells the group to hurry because while they may have lots of time, for him “every breath is a cliffhanger.”
Maybe I’m just an emotional wreck, but moments like that strike a nerve somewhere that goes deeper than the laughs or hijinks that ensue during the film. And I definitely couldn’t help but shed a tear — yes, I’m a softie — as the pets who have waited all day for their people to come home are reunited. I may not know what Mia is doing while I’m not home, but I’ll always be glad to see her when I get there.