Deborah Ross

Home alone

When The Secret Life of Pets is about the secret life of pets and we see the pets revealing their true disposition it's delicious, but such vignettes stop early on

The Secret Life of Pets is the latest animation from Illumination Entertainment, which also brought us Minions and Despicable Me, but whereas they were smart, funny, charming and original, this is not that smart, not that funny, not that charming and not that original. It’s an average caper that feels familiar and suffers mightily from an excess of chase scenes although, in the interests of full disclosure, I should add I attended the screening with a six-year-old who said afterwards: ‘I loved it.’ Six-year-olds. We are fond of them and all that, but they just don’t ever get the bigger picture, do they?

This is set in Manhattan and concerns Max, a little terrier as voiced by Louis C.K. (The dogs speak, but to the human ear it sounds like barking.) Max lives in an apartment with his human, Katie (Ellie Kemper). Max adores Katie and Katie adores Max. The opening scenes show Max riding in Katie’s bike basket and Max washing Katie’s face with his happy licks and what have you, but presumably this is only at weekends, because otherwise Katie is at work all day and Max is left in the apartment. (The tagline to this film asks: ‘Ever wondered what your pets do all day when you are not at home?’, to which I would say if you’re not at home all day, you shouldn’t have a dog, but no one seems bothered about that here.)

The animation is not groundbreaking, but is bright and colourful with a palette that, most pleasingly, reminded me of certain books from my childhood, especially Go, Dog. Go! (by P.D. Eastman). And the opening scenes gave me cause to believe this would, at least, capture something of the true nature of canines. Max drops everything when a ball comes into play — ‘Ball! Ball! Ball!’ — and always greets Katie on her return as our dog always greets us, even though we adore our dog responsibly, and are Never Out For Long.

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