“The Secret Life of Pets”


            While walking into a church nursery this week, I realized something I hadn't noticed before:  playing in the background was a monitor showing an animated film.  Continuously.  As if kids expect these films to be part of the background of their lives, and are comfortable surrounded by them.  If so, that would explain why there are so many animated films these days, and so many aimed at children:  they're like Nintendos in a literal sense: they tend our children.

            “The Secret Life of Pets” is the latest in a long line of animated films that are targeted at young audiences, but watchable for the adults, as well.  The plot in the classic “Toy Story” is that they toys come to life and talk to each other when humans aren't present.  The premise here is that people's pets talk and interact with each other when the humans leave for the day.  Taking place in New York city, it even features the pets crossing apartment windows to visit each other.  Some, of course, are better friends than others.  Max (the voice of Louis C.K.) was perfectly happy until his owner brought home another, bigger dog named Duke (Eric Stonestreet). Duke bullies Max by eating his food and sleeping in his bed, but Max begins to get even when he realizes that making a mess of things in the apartment will be blamed on Duke, since Max already had a history of keeping everything neat.  But soon their little rivalry is overshadowed by an adventure involving other animals, both domesticated and not.  The animal control guys are the enemy, of course, but so are some “wild” animals, the sewer dwellers....well, really, the plot is entirely forgettable.  The point is that our two would-be rivals wind up becoming best buddies, much to the delight of their mutual “owner.”

            The enjoyment in the film is not only the technical advancement of the voices and animation, but the little gags, like when a dog spots a butterfly and shouts “Butterfly!” and all the other dogs can't help themselves, they chase.  Same thing with a ball.  And of course they all love their homes, and can't wait for their owners to come home.  It's just that all their talking then just comes out as barking.

            It's cute, it's harmless.  It's not overloaded with charm, and the plot's a little fuzzy, but it will no doubt be playing in the background of many a church nursery for years to come.


Questions for Discussion:

1)                  How much can animals communicate with each other?

2)                  How much are animals creatures of instinct, and how much can they be “trained”?

3)                  When have you experienced a rivalry that turned into a friendship?


Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association