Review – A Purrrrr-fectly Funny Flick (“The Secret Life Of Pets”)

Yes, I’m one of THOSE people who talks to their pets as if they were human, and for those countless others who do the same thing, here’s the burning question we’ve all had…  what happens after we leave home? Do our pets watch TV? Play video games? Do they talk to each other and conspire against us?  Well, here’s one possible answer!

Louis C.K. voices Max, a playful and happy terrier in a NYC high-rise apartment that has it all. A great owner, a bevy of wacky dog, cat, bird, and guinea pig friends, and a helluva view of NYC’s skyline. But all that changes when his owner, Katie (Ellie Kemper), brings home a huge sloppy pound dog named Duke (Eric Stonestreet) who immediately takes over as the alpha dog. But Max, using his wits, attempts to blackmail the newbie pooch and that’s where things go south quickly. During an outing with a clueless dog-walker, Max and Duke get separated and lose their collars to a gang of street thug cats.

Things get worse when, after getting caught by the NYC animal control, they are rescued by Snowball (Kevin Hart), a hyper-crazed little bunny and his savage cronies who lord over “Flushed Pets”, a secret underground lair of animals thrown away by their owners. Snowball, who wants to dominate all of humanity, tries to indoctrinate the pair, but with disastrous (and hilarious) results.

Meanwhile, Max’s next door Pomeranian neighbor, Gidget (Jenny Slate), finds a hungry and ruthless hawk named Tiberius (Albert Brooks) to locate Max for her, but when she finds out he’s been taken to the sewers, she gets help from Pops (Dana Carvey) a cranky, but wise old Basset hound to lead her and her rag-tag group to Snowball’s hideout. But Max and Duke have long escaped to Brooklyn, not only to get a snack at a sausage factory (a great scene), but to try to find Duke’s old master. Trouble arises when Duke is captured again by animal control and Snowball has to team up with Max to save not only Duke, but his cohorts as well.

Nowhere near as heart-tugging as Disney’s animal adventure Bolt, it’s loaded with gags, jokes, and background funny stuff. Universal Studio’s Illumination Entertainment creative team (Despicable Me, The Minions franchise) of Brian Lynch, Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio have packed their script with snappy dialogue, a fast-paced adventure, sight-gags galore, and a keen eye for pets and pet owners. Truly a laugh-fest for anyone who has ever owned a cat, dog, or whatever.

Solid direction by Chris Renaud and Yarrow Cheney (both Despicable Me movies), they really know what works for the best LPM (laughs per minute). The voice talent is terrific here too, especially with Hart, with his over-the-top maniacal blood-lust against the humans coming out of a cute and fuzzy little bunny. Hysterical. Lake Bell as Chloe, the obese ‘I-don’t-care-about-anyone-but-me’ cat and Tiberius, were my favorites. You really have to pay attention, as there is SO much going on in both the fore and background. 

Note: Before the movie you are treated to very funny Minions short called Mower Minions. The gibberish talking little yellow guys with the goggle eyes decide they need to buy a blender they see on TV, so they attempt to mow the lawn of a rest home next door. Needless to say, things do NOT go well.          

Oliver & Company (1988)

Household pets coming together to save each other? How about to save a kitten named Oliver? Back when Disney animation was at a low point, this amusing standard animation and computer rendered feature film came out with some rather catchy tunes by Billy Joel. Unfortunately, it still wasn’t enough to make bank at the House of Mouse.Loosely based on Dickens Oliver Twist, an orphaned kitten named Oliver (voiced by Joey Lawrence) wanders the busy NYC streets and meets a laid-back Jack Russel Terrier named Dodger (Joel) who assists him in stealing food. Oliver follows Dodger and then meets his owner, a shabbily dressed and goofy pickpocket named Fagin (Dom Deluise) and his freinds: Tito the Chihuahua (Cheech Marin), Einstein the Great Dane (Richard Mulligan), Rita the Afghan (Sheryl Lee Ralph), and Francis the English bulldog (Roscoe Lee Browne).Fagin explains that he is running out of time to repay the money he borrowed from ruthless loan shark, Sykes (Robert Loggia). Sykes told Fagin it must be paid in three days, or else! Sykes’ two dobermans, Roscoe and DeSoto attack Oliver, but he is defended by Fagin’s dogs.

The next day, Oliver hits the streets with his new gang to sell some shoddy goods and perhaps steal money, but is “caught” and taken home by a limo passenger, Jenny Foxworth (Natalie Gregory) and her butler, Winston. After she adopts Oliver out of loneliness, Georgette (Bette Midler), her pompous and pampered poodle, is enraged and jealous of his presence and wants him removed from the household.Dodger and the others manage to steal Oliver him from the Foxworth family, but he doesn’t want to leave, much to Dodger’s shock, who feels that he is being ungrateful. However, Fagin concocts a plan to ransom Oliver by sending Jenny a ransom note and proudly tells Sykes of his plan. But when Jenny meets up with Fagin, who is surprised that the “very rich pet owner” is only a little girl, his conscience gets the better of him, and he returns Oliver freely. Just then, Sykes comes out of the shadows and kidnaps Jenny, intending to ransom her and declaring Fagin’s debt paid.This act of cruelty rallies all the pets to give chase after Sykes and his dobermans into the NYC subway tunnels to save Jenny and put and end to Sykes. Watch out for the train track’s ‘third rail’, it’s a killer! Naturally, there’s the requisite happy ending with all the pets getting a proper home with Jenny’s rich family and not ending up on the menu of some Korean BBQ somewhere.

Okay, so the screenplay by Tim Disney, James Mangold, and Jim Cox wasn’t exactly Shakespeare. It was Dickens, and that was part of the problem. With a instantly recognizable plot, the ‘dog-buddy’ movie had no pizzazz to it and fizzled at the box office, despite the mighty Disney promotional machine at the helm.  The soundtrack was actually better, featuring music by Billy Joel, Huey Lewis, Bette Midler, and Ruth Pointer (of the Pointer Sisters).

As far as the animation goes, this was a time of experimentation with the animation dept who were dabbling in computer animation with their The Great Mouse Detective and The Black Cauldron, but it wouldn’t be until 1995 when Pixar perfected it with Toy Story, so in 1988 rendering was crude at best. It’s not the best Disney animation, like the previous The Great Mouse Detective or The Black Cauldron, but at least the voice-over work is wonderful. It was the following year, 1989, they got their heads together and started whipping out the amazing “classics” like The Lttle Mermaid, Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, etc.