Combustible Celluloid
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With: Louis C.K., Eric Stonestreet, Kevin Hart, Jenny Slate, Ellie Kemper, Albert Brooks, Lake Bell, Dana Carvey, Hannibal Buress, Bobby Moynihan, Chris Reynaud, Steve Coogan, Michael Beattie, Sandra Echeverría, Jaime Camil, Kiely Renaud (voices)
Written by: Cinco Paul, Ken Daurio, Brian Lynch
Directed by: Yarrow Cheney, Chris Renaud
MPAA Rating: PG for action and some rude humor
Running Time: 90
Date: 07/08/2016

The Secret Life of Pets (2016)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Fur from Home

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

When Pixar tells one of their familiar stories, such as the recent Finding Dory, it feels warmly familiar, comfortable as only repeating tellings of favorite stories can be.

However, the new The Secret Life of Pets, while also telling a very familiar story, does not have that same quality. It feels more like a dashed-off, phoned-in attempt at a story, as if told by a busy grownup with better things to do.

Opening today in Bay Area theaters, The Secret Life of Pets (shouldn't that be "Secret Lives of Pets"?) starts with a wonderful idea: what do pets do while owners are away?

In one case, a dachshund uses a blender to scratch his back, and in another, a poodle switches an iPod from classical music to metal.

The possibilities are endless, but instead of exploring them, the movie settles back and tries to copy the basic story outline that so many Pixar movies are based on: two mismatched characters are stranded and must learn to work together to return home.

Modest-sized pooch Max (voiced by Louis C.K.) is happy with his person, Katie (voiced by Ellie Kemper), until she brings home another dog. This one, the disproportionally huge Duke (voiced by Eric Stonestreet), looks more like man-sized Muppet "Sweetums," with ropey fur and a nose the size of a steering wheel.

While fighting, the two dogs get lost. They cross paths with an army of alley cats as well as an evil bunny, Snowball (voiced by Kevin Hart), who leads an anti-human army of rejected and forgotten animals. Hart's performance is typically gabby, as if helplessly craving all the attention in the room.

Another group of good pets, led by white, fluffy girl dog Gidget (voiced by Jenny Slate), tries to find the lost canines.

Director Chris Renaud and many of the crew previously brought us the clever, witty Despicable Me movies, which weren't afraid to get a little nasty. This one feels more domesticated; with the brilliantly acidy comedian Louis C.K. in the lead, it's hard not to expect something a little edgier.

Certainly, the movie looks terrific, with its rich New York City setting and all the various shapes, colors and textures of animals (including a crocodile and a hawk).

It moves quickly, but perhaps a little too quickly, with single-minded focus on frequent adrenaline-fueled kung-fu fights and chases (and even an out-of-place scene with psychedelic sausages).

Perhaps it might have been fun if the animals imagined themselves playing parts in a made-up run-of-the-mill Hollywood action-comedy. That, at least, would have been better than an actual run-of-the-mill Hollywood action-comedy.

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