What do you get when you marry a Monty Python-esque love of absurdity, enough slapstick to exhaust the Three Stooges and a more than a little heart? “The Secret Life of Pets,” an oddly original and charming romp.
Animal-themed children’s movies may not normally be where one would look for a wellspring of creativity. After all, they’ve sort of been done.
But after years of movies dominated by remakes, sequels and comic books brought to the big screen, movies like “Zootopia” and now “The Secret Life of Pets” leave most of their over-PG peers in the dust.
Sure, the general outline of the plot in “Secret Life” is pretty standard stuff. Two dogs get lost in New York and have to overcome their rivalry and work together to find their way back home.
But then things get strange.
The pair encounters a homicidal bunny named Snowball who leads a revolutionary gang of abandoned pets, including a tattooed pig and a crazy lizard. The gang rescues Max and Duke, but turns on them when they realize the pooches actually like being pets.
After Max and Duke escape from the rabbit’s gang, they make their way to a sausage factory where they eat themselves into hallucinatory bliss, complete with a musical dance routine. It’s a thing of wonder.
Meanwhile, Max’s neighbor Gidget, a twitchy Pomeranian, rounds up an eclectic posse of pets to find theMax and Duke, including a melancholy hawk named Tiberius and a curmudgeonly but well-connected dog named Pops. This motley band makes their way through the city to an ultimate showdown with Snowball’s gang of vicious strays.
Things aren’t all fluffy pets and pratfalls, though. There’s the occasional grown-up joke about things like Brooklyn real estate trends. And the movie does delve into deeper themes, including death and abandonment, but it’s no darker than your average Pixar film.
“Secret Life” boasts a strong cast of comedians and voice actors including Louis C. K., Lake Bell, Kevin Hart, Jenny Slate and too many more to name. The actors all bring their oddball characters to life marvelously.
“The Secret Life of Pets” is a perfect summer treat for kids and for those of us who are lucky enough to still be kids at heart.