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If I were a cat, sleeping soundly and snug,
Sure of my sweetness and rightfully smug,
My owner would sneak out the door as I yawn,
Hoping to leave ere I knew he was gone.
But little would he know, as soon as he split,
I’d stretch out my limbs like a good hypocrite
And head for the places I wasn’t to go,
Except for right now because how would he know?
I’d scratch every curtain and claw every chair,
Knowing I was quite safe while he wasn’t aware.
I’d go where I pleased, if you know what I mean,
Since compared to my box, everywhere else is clean.
And when he again would return home at last,
My many offenses now safe in the past,
I’d wait till he calmed down and cleaned up my crime,
Then snuggle his lap as I plan for next time….

But since I’m the owner instead of the cat,
I guess I’ll just hope that she doesn’t do that.

MPAA rating: PG

Since it’s so obviously a rip-off of Toy Story (what do _____s do when humans are away?), I didn’t hold out much hope for The Secret Life of Pets. In fact, most of the recent American animated films outside Disney and Pixar haven’t really sparked my interest at all. But after finally giving Illumination’s 2016 hit a look-see, it proved to be quite an enjoyable little film.

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If you’ve seen the Toy Story films, you know the general plot: When humans leave their homes, the pets come out to play, after maybe pining for their owners a bit. Little dog Max (Louis C.K.) is the beloved of his owner Katie (Ellie Kemper), missing her every time he’s left alone in her New York apartment, until his world is disturbed by much larger adoptee Duke (Eric Stonestreet). They clash, not unlike Woody and Buzz, and are soon on the streets and on the run from the dogcatchers and a band of crazy abandoned pets, led by a bunny (Kevin Hart) bent on revenge on mankind. The bitter abandonment motive probably brings to mind Toy Story 3, and Duke’s backstory has shades of Toy Story 2 as well.

So yes, we’ve seen every narrative beat in The Secret Life of Pets before, but that doesn’t mean there’s not still fun to be had, thanks to the colorful animation and diverse cast of characters, which seems to grow exponentially so every kind of pet can be represented. I, for one, am a cat lover, so naturally the jokes surrounding Chloe the cat (Lake Bell), one of Max’s friends who goes in search of him, tickled me the most. Even so, my favorite character had to be Gidget (Jenny Slate), a fluffy Pomeranian with a strong crush on Max, which drives her to act ruthless against her cute appearance. I really do love that puffball, and her big action scene on a bridge was both awesome and hilarious! I guarantee I would have wanted a Gidget stuffed animal when I was a kid. Kevin Hart does the same appearance-contrasting-with-personality thing by playing the bunny villain as an amusing psycho, but the rest of the characters aren’t nearly as well developed as the side cast in Toy Story, probably because there are too many of them.

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If I haven’t made it clear enough yet, this is no Toy Story, and Max’s “bonding” with Duke is just plain by-the-numbers compared with Woody and Buzz. Yet The Secret Life of Pets has enough good humor and warmth to exceed its conspicuous unoriginality, and I honestly enjoyed it more than Despicable Me, so I guess that makes it my favorite Illumination film (which doesn’t say that much, but oh well). The animation was particularly polished, and I liked several scenes designed as long tracking shots. It’s a perfectly kid-friendly jaunt, though in the end, I suspect pet lovers will find more relatable chuckles than non-pet owners, which might be why I found quite a few.

Best line: (Chloe, explaining Max’s owner’s behavior to him) “Because she’s a dog person, Max. And dog people do weird, inexplicable things. Like… they get dogs instead of cats.”


Rank: List Runner-Up


© 2018 S.G. Liput
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