Expectations began to dwindle for me in the five minutes just prior to the start of Illumination Entertainment's latest animated feature The Secret Life of Pets. Preceding the picture is a short film, Mower Minions, headlined by those headache-inducing little rascals from the Despicable Me series and, more recently, their own feature film. Even at just a few minutes in length, it's an overbearing experience, hyperactive animated cinema in dire need of Ritalin.
What I find so disconnecting about the Minions franchise is it's essentially a soulless endeavor, devoid of characters to care about or remotely engaging plot. It's merely an experience of watching stuff bounce around the big screen.
So, I was worried The Secret Life of Pets would too leave me underwhelmed, even though I'd been quite charmed by the picture's marketing. And while Pets does at times have the same hyperbolic energy as the Minions, it is also thankfully a feature with a ton of heart, with lovable, memorable characters and plenty of enjoyable dialogue.
The picture focuses on Max (the delightful Louis C.K.), a terrier living a perfectly comfortable life with his owner in Manhattan. When his mommy brings home a new pet, a shaggy Newfoundland named Duke (Eric Stonestreet) at least twice his size, Max of course becomes jealous and makes a mess of home, in the hopes it'll result in Duke's removal. While out for a walk in the park with some fellow canines later that day, however, Max and Duke go astray, are picked up by animal control and then "rescued" by a sassy bunny named Snowball (a nicely cast Kevin Hart) and his crew of abandoned pets who are out for revenge on the owners who wronged them. Snowball and his gang wind up quite the motley bunch, leaving Max and Duke on the run from them, while some pals of Max's try their best to navigate the Big Apple and find their friend.
As you can tell, there's plenty of running around and action in The Secret Life of Pets, and while the picture does often feel like a theme park ride, it also sports a terrific script and one hell of a cast, also including the likes of Dana Carvey, Jenny Slate, Ellie Kemper, Bobby Moynihan and Albert Brooks. The animation is exquisite - I haven't seen a Manhattan so breathtaking since Woody Allen's - and Alexandre Desplat's jazzy score would be worthy of an Oscar nomination.
I could not be happier that The Secret Life of Pets is a big, fat hit.