THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS: Full disclosure here. I’m a sucker for any movie about or starring a dog (See CLOSING CREDITS.). Naturally, I was drawn in by this skillfully animated feature about a devoted mutt (Voiced by Louis C.K.) whose “only dog” lifestyle with his human (Voiced by Ellie Kemper) is jeopardized by the appearance of a furry lunkhead (Voiced by Eric Stonestreet) perfectly content to usurp his territory. Once the two canines reach an uneasy truce, they’re catapulted into a series of misadventures including an encounter with a band of misfit strays led by an inflammatory rabbit (Voiced by Kevin Hart) with the Orwellian name of Snowball. The movie’s title is also its plot with a variation on the premise of TOY STORY (1995) where our animal friends are living lives of their own when their owners are gone. The film makes up for its paper-thin plot with a frenetic pace that briskly moves from one episode to another with funny dialogue, slapstick “violent” humor coupled with pop culture “pokes” as typified by Chloe’s morbidly obese cat (Voiced by Lake Bell) who’s surely an allusion to the portliest of the Kardashians. All of this is set against the rollicking backdrop of Alexandre Desplat’s musical soundtrack which gives the movie its energy. The vocal characterizations are nicely done with each “player” possessing their own unique personalities. There are moments of occasional pathos like the sequence where a dog returns to his former home only to find his previous owners gone. Although a theme around the pleasure that our pets give us (And vice versa.) is hardly a new one, it’s handled with aplomb to resonate with those of us whose best friends walk on four legs without ever asking us “where this relationship is going”. CRITIC’S GRADE: B+
CLOSING CREDITS: In the military comedy STRIPES (1981), Bill Murray (GHOSTBUSTERS) asks his fellow soldiers “to raise your hand if you cried when Old Yeller died”. At first, nobody does until gradually a few hands go up to be joined by everybody elses in a collective admission of tearful sentiment for a movie dog. But the fact is that WE ALL CRIED when OLD YELLER (1957) died and that’s why it’s the best live action “dog movie”…EVER! But don’t forget Disney’s LADY AND THE TRAMP (1955) which is the best animated “dog movie”.