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The Secret Life of Pets

Illumination Entertainment’s featherlight The Secret Life of Pets will surely entertain families.  The vibrant animals and the large-scale chases will delight youngsters, and adults – who may already be prepared to count down the minutes – will find strange gratification from hearing R-rated comedians lend their vocals to cute animals.

Max (a terrier voiced by Louis C.K.) is unexpectedly buddied-up with a rescued dog named Duke (voiced by Eric Stonestreet).  When their conflicted relationship separates them from their owner, Max and Duke have to find their way back home through the bustling streets of New York City.  Meanwhile, a pomeranian (voiced by Jenny Slate) and a team of loyal pets search for their lost canine neighbours, while a gang of thuggish strays (led by a deceiving bunny voiced by Kevin Hart) hunt for Max and Duke.

The story is a retread of children’s films and a bit of a misdirection given the promotional material, but Illumination Entertainment sells their undemanding premise with enthusiasm.  The cast (including Underdogs’ Bobby Moynihan, Mr. Peabody & Sherman’s Lake Bell, Finding Dory’s Albert Brooks, and Dana Carvey in a return to the indistinguishable) voice their characters with the same hutzpah necessary to give their routine characters a boost.

Even if I do have slight qualms towards the “been there, done that” qualities of the film, The Secret Life of Pets is the best work Illumination Entertainment has churned out to date.  The production company has produced lacklustre, transparent works in the past (Despicable Me, The Lorax, the Minions short that precedes this film), and I’ve often been disappointed with how the filmmakers have manipulated audiences with their smug brand of intentional cuteness.  With The Secret Life of Pets, the production leans heavily into this recurring flaw, but directors Chris Renaud and Yarrow Cheney use observational humour to support their set-ups instead of letting adorable visuals do all the talking.

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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie

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