The Secret Life of Pets had a fun trailer showing pets getting up to all sorts of things when their owners left, which seemed promising. Specifically, promising anarchy, which I am a fan of. The actual movie is, perhaps inevitably, another one of those things where a well-meaning idiot gets into trouble, undertakes an epic journey, learns some lessons and discovers the importance of friendship. I could blame Contour, I could blame kid friendly programming, or I could simply accept that by the time you’ve worn yourself out imagining cool things to animate, there might not be anything left in the tank for a cool story stringing it all together. And then I can sit there enjoying the lunacy, assuming that the lunacy has been delivered on schedule.
The Secret Life of Pets delivers an acceptable level of goofy stupidity, even if a week later I’m having trouble remembering any of the details. There’s a wander across Manhattan which is full of the kind of invention that wasn’t there for the plot. There’s lots of cat jokes. And most importantly, there’s Snowball, who provides about 110% of all the energy on offer in the movie. Once Snowball explodes onto the scene, plotting the overthrow of all humanity, I lost all interest in the domesticated heroes, and just wanted a whole movie devoted to Snowball wrecking things like some sort of demented cross between Heath Ledger’s Joker and Bugs Bunny on a bad hair day.
I could bend my own head into a pretzel wondering about how right-on it is to have Kevin Hart voicing a white rabbit who’s rebelling against the slavery of pets by humans, but while it was happening I was just enjoying the sheer audacity of it all. As the action builds to a climax, Snowball steals a bus and starts barrelling over the Brooklyn Bridge; the only nod to realism is that he can’t work the wheel AND the pedals, and if you stop to wonder how he stole the bus in the first place, there’s something dead inside you and we can never be friends, though I will happily engage you to manage my money because that’s the kind of soulless dedication to detail I like in a fiduciary. My actual friends will be nodding slightly to the Beastie Boys and hoping the bus ride goes on forever. It doesn’t, but until it stops, everything seems possible.
Snowball aside, it’s hard to buy into it; this is a movie where the side characters are more interesting than the main characters, because they all do one thing and do that well for just long enough to entertain us before bouncing off the screen. The main characters - well, it’s great that Gidget is an empowered female just driving things along, but if she has a conversation with a named female character which ISNT about her quest to get back her man, I missed it. At the time, that annoyed me less than the fact that Gidget was full of moxie and Max was at best an amiable moocher with a modicum of charm and not quite enough brains to notice that he was stupid. Gidget didn’t need to settle for that when she plainly could have had her pick of the pet world.
But never mind that. Snowball. Who, like all criminal masterminds is eliminated at the end by irony, in this case getting suckered back into slavery by a little girl stroking him. So this time next year I damn well EXPECT a sequel about his rescue and riproaring rampage of revenge.