This week brings an adorable bit of animation in “The Secret Life of Pets”

secret life of pets
I don’t see nearly enough animation. For someone who sees about 350 movies a year, sometimes I barely seen a half dozen cartoons, and that’s kind of shameful. I usually hit the main Academy Award hopefuls and a few random ones besides that, but I slack when it comes to animated films. Still, I try to hit the big ones (Disney, Dreamworks, Pixar, etc), though Illumination and Universal’s Despicable Me and Minions franchise has escaped my eye so far. Their latest outing, the original effort The Secret Life of Pets, however, I have seen (just yesterday, in fact). Furthermore, I’m happy to report that it’s rather adorable as well. It hits theaters this week and should be a huge hit.

The film is (obviously) an animated look at what our furry friends do once we leave the house. The protagonist here is dog Max (voice of Louis C.K.), who loves his owner Katie (voice of Ellie Kemper) and has the perfect life, at least until she rescues a stray in huge dog Duke (voice of Eric Stonestreet), throwing off the balance in the house. Max initially complains to other pets in the building like smitten dog Gidget (Jenny Slate) and bored cat Chloe (voice of Lake Bell), but then tries to get rid of Duke. This backfires when Duke actually gets them both captured by Animal Control at the park, leading to an encounter with a bunny (voice of Kevin Hart) that’s leading an anti owner revolution. While Max and Duke are forced to bond and survive together, Gidget leads a group of Max’s friends on a hunt for them. Adventures begin from there. Yarrow Cheney and Chris Renaud co-direct, with the script credited to Ken Daurio, Brian Lynch, and Cinco Paul. The rest of the voice cast includes Albert Brooks, Hannibal Buress, Dana Carvey, Steve Coogan, Bobby Moynihan, and more.

As a pet owner, I was delighted by aspects of this flick. The adventure plot is a little ridiculous for my tastes, but getting to watch the dogs, cats, and other pets just go about their domestic lives was a ton of fun. There’s some excellent jokes to be found there, as well as just an enjoyable little vibe going on. In terms of the voice acting, Louis C.K. is an excellent choice for Max, though it did make me wonder what an animated film from C.K. himself would be like. Still, he gives it his all here in what’s not exactly his most challenging gig ever. He believes in the script, and it shows.

Awards wise, it’s almost assuredly Best Animated Feature or bust for The Secret Life of Pets. That avenue is potentially fruitful though, as nothing has so far shot itself to the front of the Oscar line in that category. If this one scores with a few precursors, I could easily see it getting an Academy Award nomination in Animated Feature. A win might be harder to come by, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility. Anything else, like a Best Original Screenplay citation, is pretty much just wishful thinking. Again though, I wouldn’t bet against this one scoring with voters, especially if they’re pet owners like myself.

Overall, The Secret Life of Pets is shaping up to be a very fine bet for this weekend’s family viewing options. Whether you own a pet or not, this is often a delightful bit of animation, with jokes that hit both for adults and children. It’s not quite on the wit level of Pixar’s best, but it has a surprising amount to offer. If you have even the smallest inclination that this might be up your alley, I suspect you’ll be more than satisfied. At least in my eyes, it’s the best bit of animation that we’ve had released so far in 2016…

Be sure to check out The Secret Life of Pets, in theaters this Friday!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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