The Secret Life of Pets (3 stars)

The Secret Life of Pets

Cute animated comedy sustained by a strong voice cast that includes Louis CK and Kevin Hart

It’s a universal amusement, imagining what the child-substitutes get up to when their people aren’t home. Reason tells us they are just horribly bored, chewing up stuff or sleeping. But in this moderately chucklesome comedy for younger kiddies from Illumination Entertainment (who gave us Despicable Me) they are somehow breezing in and out of each other’s apartments in a New York City block, throwing dance parties and falling into madcap misadventures. Or the toilet bowl.

Little Max (voiced by the superlative Louis CK), a brown and white chap of indeterminate breed, adores his beloved human Katie (Ellie Kemper); ‘But every day she LEAVES!’, he grieves, unable to understand where she goes and terribly lonely. Then Katie brings home a new dog – huge, shaggy rescue mutt Duke (Modern Family’s Eric Stonestreet) – and a mean rivalry ensues. During walkies the pair’s dispute lands them in dangerous stray cat territory, into the arms of animal control officers and, worse, the clutches of subterranean dwelling outcast animals – a vengeful army of abandoned critters led by a psychotic bunny rabbit called Snowball (motor-mouthed comedian Kevin Hart).

Meanwhile, a ball of fluff called Gidget (Parks and Recreation’s Jenny Slate) organises Max’s species-diverse neighbourhood chums into a search and rescue team, who get into as much zany difficulty as the lost Max and Duke. So, what are the odds that they’ll all manage to get home and look like nothing whatsoever has happened by the time their owners come back from work?

Directed by Chris Renaud and Yarrow Cheney, The Secret Life of Pets is certainly cute, its energy levels sustained by the voice cast, which also includes Lake Bell, Albert Brooks and Steve Coogan (as sphynx alley cat Ozone). Yet it’s undeniably derivative, with more than a passing plot resemblance to Toy Story, while it lacks the wit or sophistication that elevates the best animated films into classics for audiences of all ages. The colour is sometimes lurid (why is Central Park so orange?) and, together with the accompanying Minions short, the programme has enough poo jokes to rival a year’s worth of children’s entertainment.

General release from Fri 24 Jun.

The Secret Life of Pets

  • 3 stars
  • 2016
  • US
  • 1h 31min
  • U
  • Directed by: Chris Renaud, Yarrow Cheney
  • Written by: Ken Daurio, Brian Lynch
  • Cast: Louis CK, Eric Stonestreet, Ellie Kemper, Jenny Slate
  • UK release: 24 June 2016

Little Max (Louis CK) is a small dog who gets very lonely when his beloved human Katie (Kemper) leaves each day. But then she brings home a huge, shaggy rescue mutt (Stonestreet) and hijinks ensue. Undeniably derivative but cute and energetic comedy sustained by its fine voice cast.