Directors: Chris Renaud, Yarrow Cheney

Cast: Louis C.K., Eric Stonestreet, Kevin Hart, Lake Bell, Jenny Slate, Ellie Kemper, Albert Brooks, Dana Carvey

Classification: G (Very Mild Sense of Threat and Some Crude Humour)

Review by Peter Gray

Given how stellar animated films have been as of late – namely ‘Zootopia’ and ‘Finding Dory’ – something like ‘The Secret Life of Pets’ unfortunately pales in comparison. Now that’s not to say that this film isn’t worth the time for a family with easily-entertained youngsters as there’s an inoffensive cuteness to the project on a visual level that should keep its target audience entertained; even if the script offers little in terms of age-appropriate humour or an overall moral to its tale.

The film starts off promisingly enough with the opening sequence squeezing hefty mileage out of its concept where we witness the unique behaviour of a series of pets in New York City; yappy dogs eagerly await the return of their owners, egotistical cats embellish in their alone time, a wayward hamster crawls the vents looking for its way home…the list goes on. Garnering specific focus is the slightly spoiled terrier Max (voiced by Louis C.K.) who adores his owner Katie (Ellie Kemper) to no end. When she comes home one day with the oversized Duke (Eric Stonestreet), competition for Katie’s affection boils to a point for the territorial Max who devises a plan to drive Duke out.

As much potential fodder the plot has, ‘The Secret Life of Pets’ becomes all a bit too familiar and middle-of-the-road as we join the duelling duo on the journey back home once Max’s ploy goes predictably awry and they find themselves on the outskirts of town. It’s here where we meet, amongst others, street-smart bunny Snowball (Kevin Hart) who’s perhaps a bit more unhinged and maniacal than one would expect. Hart’s a competent comedic performer and he possesses the right energy for Snowball but his shtick doesn’t seem organically suited to the confines of a family film, and his attempt to puncture the funny bone instead of the heart grows a little tiresome over the swift 87 minute runtime. One thing the film does get right though is its voice casting with C.K. and Stonestreet pitch perfect in their delivery, and they’re well supported by the likes of Lake Bell (as a bitchy cat – what else?), Jenny Slate (an absolute delight as a Bichon Frise harbouring unrequited love for Max), Steve Coogan (as a thuggish street cat), and Albert Brooks (as an emotionally conflicted hawk alternately torn between eating our band of misfit heroes and helping them).

‘The Secret Life of Pets’ should be a more engaging film than it is but it’s still enjoyably cute and, surprisingly, has more audible adult jokes peppered throughout than it does for children. Given how wildly successful the film has been so far – it arrives on Australian shores with a worldwide bank of $760 million – there’s clearly an audience susceptible to this light fare, and though it doesn’t do for pets what ‘Toy Story’ did for our childhood collectibles, ‘The Secret Life of Pets’ will sit comfortably, if not entirely memorably, with children these school holidays.

My rating: 3/5

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