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'Secret Lives of Pets' tries hard to make its mark

Cape Gazette of Lewes, Delaware

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MOVIE REVIEW

I'm not quite sure how "secret" the lives of pets are in "The Secret Lives of Pets," the latest film from Sony's Illumination Studios, considering most of their adventures take place in the streets of a candy-colored depiction of New York City. It's just one of the many odd choices from the filmmakers that prevent the film from being the studio's "Toy Story," But, it does certainly try its damndest.

For example, our hero, Max (voiced by Louis C.K.) is a loving canine companion to his city-dwelling human. Every day, he sits patiently staring at the door until her return from work, his tiny tail whirring with excitement. One day, she returns with an oversized mutt named Duke (voiced by Eric Stones treet), who she rescued from the local shelter (shades of Buzz Lightyear's arrival in Woody's domain).

Max is one of the many pets that spring to life upon their owner's daily departure: cats, fish, turtles, guinea pigs - all communicate with one another, and we get a glimpse of the purpose behind some of the their behaviors when nobody's watching. But after about five minutes of that (which could actually fill an entire film), that is ditched for a fairly outlandish journey that involves an epic list of characters and more chasing than a puppy discovering his tail for the first time.

Max and Duke break free during one of their scheduled walks and end up running afoul of some underground-dwelling animals that were cast away by their former owners, led by a former magician's bunny who is white, tiny, fluffy, adorable and is threatening to wipe out the human race (voiced by a manic Kevin Hart). Meanwhile, Max's Pomeranian pal Gidget (voiced by Jenny Slate) is determined to track the two pups down and enlists the help of all her apartment-dwelling, non-human cohorts.

And while kids many revel in the manic energy, adults may find themselves frequently visiting the concession for refills, as "Pets" never really settles into a groove and instead skips from one episodic calamity after another. There is never a time to spend with any one character in particular, and things seem stitched together without much attention to congruence. For example, in one scene, Duke recalls a sausage factory from his puppy years and both he and Max set out on a random quest to find it. When they do, they enter a random, drug-like dance with partying hotdogs as they chomp away with glee.

In addition, there is such a strong list of voices in the cast, none of whom play to their individual strengths. Casting Louis C.K. as a despondent city-dwelling mutt is genius, but his character is filled with such optimism and cheer, he's unrecognizable. You may as well cast the cynical comedian in a musical.

The same can be said for Slate, Hannibal Buress, and a host of other recognizable names whose comedic instincts have all been neutered here.

"The Secret Life of Pets" is much like a young puppy, in that it has more energy than it knows what to do with, is adorable to look at, but still is in need of a whole lot of training.

As a side note: The film is preceded by a short from the studio's golden geese, the Minions. Do yourself a favor and allow yourself those extra minutes to park, browse the lobby, hit the restroom or any other idle activity to help avoid the laughless number from these now-tiresome talking Twinkies.



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Original Publication Date: July 15, 2016



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