How do pets react to their humans staying home on weekends? What about when their owners have friends over? What do they think about television or videogames? Does New York City really allow pet alligators?
These are all burning questions that “The Secret Life Of Pets” leaves unanswered.
Despite its title, “Pets” doesn’t depict as much of the everyday secret life of pets as one might expect. That’s a shame because the movie’s strongest moments involve playing off viewers’ expectations (and fears) of what their pets normally do when the humans are away.
“Pets” is a story about learning to share and get along with others, and after the lights go down, the viewer meets the two who need to learn the lesson. First is Max, a pampered pet pooch comfortable with his life as his owner Katie’s only pet, and second, Duke, a giant brown dog Katie brings home from the pound, threatening to ruin Max’s perfect life.
Max, initially cold toward the newcomer, is forced to work with him when they find themselves first welcomed, then rejected, and finally chased across New York City by an extremist group of disowned animals known as the Flushed Pets. It’s left up to the neighbor dog Gigit, Max’s wannabe girlfriend, to assemble the pets of the apartment building to stage a daring rescue.
While it provides perfectly good entertainment, the plot falls short of legendary movies like “The Incredibles” and “Finding Nemo” because the movie lacks a familial aspect.
Max and Duke have less meat to their relationship than Nemo had with his father or the Incredibles had as a strong family. The movie would have benefitted from keeping more true to its title by allowing Max and Duke to bond over a whole (more normal) week rather than a single, extraordinary day.
The supporting cast, a plethora of animals, still manage to be great characters despite the short timeline, however. They dutifully and hilariously conform to their respective stereotypes (i.e. the fat cat, the gullible dog). But be they a lovestruck Gigit or a rejected rabbit, each still manages to have a fleshed-out backstory.
Another area in which “Pets” shines is its lack of political motivation.
In the wake of the heavy-handed messaging in movies like “Zootopia,” “Pets” presents a welcome return to nonpartisan kids movies. Only two overtly political moments exist in the film, one where the Flushed Pets seems to be equated with the Black Panthers, and another involving a bridge, a bunny, and a brain injury ending in a statement that comes one syllable away from causing an ACLU lawsuit.
“Pets” is an example of a wonderful premise executed with mediocre passion. Rather than answering the sorts of questions the title brings to mind in a clever, entertaining way, the movie settles for unoriginal gimmicks like minutes-long, sausage-induced LSD trips and the like.
At the end of the movie, the viewer is left asking the same question they thought the movie would answer: What is the secret life of pets? Max and Duke overcome a crazy day, but as the credits begin to roll, one is left asking, “What are they going to do tomorrow?”