‘The Secret Life of Pets’ piles on to already-great year of animation

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The Secret Life of Pets (2016)

Directed by Chris Renaud & Yarrow Cheney

That “The Secret Life of Pets” was the third best talking animal movie to release in 2016 says a lot more about the impressive batch of animation we’ve seen this year than it does about the quality of directors Chris Renaud and Yarrow Cheney’s family-friendly adventure. We’ve seen a couple of intelligently written, Oscar-quality releases so far in 2016, but your children won’t comprehend all the layers of social commentary in “Zootopia” or appreciate the CGI wizardry of “Finding Dory.” Sometimes we just need a lighter story about a lost puppy to brighten our day. “The Secret Life of Pets” found that gap and filled it perfectly.

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Living in a cute Manhattan apartment with his owner Katie (Ellie Kemper), the spunky mutt Max (Louis C.K.) has everything a dog could want. He’s friends with Gidget (Jenny Slate), the Pomeranian across the street, plus the pug (Bobby Moynihan) and dachshund (Hannibal Buress) down the hall. But most importantly, Max and Katie have an unbreakable bond—nothing could ever get between them. That is, until Katie brings home another rescue dog, Duke (Eric Stonestreet), a rude, gruff giant that soon gets Max into trouble far from the home he loves. They’ll run into a rabid rabbit, Snowball (given ferocious life by Kevin Hart), and a couple of ambitious dog catchers as they try to make their way home.

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“Pets” is nothing without its unbeatable voice ensemble. Louis C.K. doesn’t steal scenes like Kevin Hart does, but his consistent and efficient effort carries “Pets” when other movies might begin to slow down or lose steam. But make no mistake, it is Hart who really jolts life into “Pets.” He doesn’t miss a single beat as Snowball, the adorable white bunny whose hatred of humankind is fueled by a history of bad owners. But they’re not the only ones. When Max goes missing, his biggest fan Gidget leads a rescue mission to find him. Along the way, she’ll meet Tiberius (voiced by Albert Brooks), a ferocious hawk whose desire to eat every living mammal is topped only by his instinct to track Max until he’s found. Albert Brooks’ sardonic wit is a refreshing interlude to the cutesy humor of the other pets, and when Slate and Brooks come together we’re treated to some of the movie’s best scenes. Their humor is closer to Pixar than “Minions” (whose Illumination Studios is responsible for “Pets”). And I can’t forget the always-entertaining Dana Carvey, who voices a wheelchair-bound hound whose knowledge of the city comes in handy. Carvey is a legend, plain and simple.

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But “Pets” can’t claim to be very original or very impactful. “Pets” picks up themes from better movies like “Toy Story” and “Finding Nemo” (including the fact that this one also has Albert Brooks voicing an animal who’s searching for another animal). It’s not exactly thought-provoking. But don’t get me wrong, “Pets” is highly entertaining, much more so than its animation studio’s “Despicable Me” franchise. “Pets” is a beautiful ode to pets and pet lovers everywhere. It makes your heart happy.

7.5/10

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