Animals just want to be loved. That is the crux of this film that keeps its claws, whatever they are, firmly sheathed, and jumps from one plot point to another hoping to land always on its feet. It doesn’t work that way, some animals would tell them.
Far from being about the secret life of pets, which drums up images of animals celebrating alone time — not far off perhaps from what you are thinking — the film ends up being about two hostile animals in mortal peril till they literally come out swimming. The animals, mostly dogs but also cats, guinea pigs, and a hawk and a tiny bird, survive falling, crashing, drowning and poisoning, not to mention ear-splitting music, and all they lose is, maybe, some fur.
At the centre of it are Max (Louis C K) and Duke (Stonestreet), the two dog pets of a painfully thin owner with no other family or friends. Duke is a new arrival, and Max pours his jealous heart out to his fellow pets in the apartment complex. One suggests Max be the “alpha dog”, and the consequent rivalry between him and Duke leads to the two finding themselves out on the streets one day at the mercy of feral cats, later animal control officers, and finally some ‘Flushed Pets (discarded pets)’. The latter have regrouped as ‘revolutionaries’, who inhabit the sewers seeking revenge against humans for using and discarding them.
If already the film has started seeming a bit unwieldy, there is more. A white fluffball of a dog called Gidget (Slate), who has a crush on Max, mounts a search for him. She ropes in both a hawk (a delicious Albert Brooks) and later an old dog who requires help to even open his eyes, Pops.
The crash of the claws doesn’t really amount to that, but the villainous rabbit called Snowball (Hart, clearly enjoying himself) neatly steals the show baring his teeth against all of humankind and its two-legged companions.
The film fills its in-betweens where there isn’t frenetic action with golden-hued shots of New York’s skyscrapers and parks, followed by familiar cats vs dogs jokes. Tomcat Chloe (Bell), for example, can’t be bothered to lift her sulking head when her owner walks in, unlike dogs including Max that run around in circles to welcome them. Chloe raids refrigerators, Max guards even his owner’s vases.
Makes you wonder what a story told from Chloe’s point of view would look like, including her take on the assumption that the sight of tall, brightly lit buildings thrills animal hearts. But then, for the sake of some cat lovers, a few “secret lives” are better left secret.
Directed by Yarrow Cheney, Chris Renaud
Voices of Louis C K, Eric Stonestreet, Kevin Hart, Jenny Slate, Albert Brooks, Lake Bell