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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Secret Life of Pets is a clever, engaging adventure about what our dogs, cats, birds, and other domesticated creatures get up to when we're not around. In the movie's case, it involves quite a bit of danger and peril -- which isn't what was showcased in the movie's promotional campaign. Main characters Max (voiced by Louis C.K.) and Duke (Eric Stonestreet) are frequently chased, sometimes on foot and sometimes in cars/vans/buses, which bang into things, crash, and catch on fire. They also dodge Animal Control officers; navigate dank, gloomy sewers; face off against an enormous viper and other predators/angry animals; and confront each other via barking, growling, yelling, and more. Animals discuss killing people (one anti-human animal character is impressed when others claim to have offed their former owners and detail how they did it). At one point it looks like a main character may not survive, and one bad guy dies in an altercation. There's some bodily function humor (a Chihuahua pees on the floor in excitement, dogs sniff each other's rear ends, etc.), a fair bit of insult language ("dumb," "stupid," "weirdo," "idiots," "cry baby," etc.), and one use of swear stand-in "holy schnitzel." But underlying all this are positive messages about friendship, teamwork, perseverance, and empathy -- as well as the futility of revenge and the importance of being open to new friends and the experiences that life brings. Max and Duke's relationship could particularly resonate with blended families and/or those dealing with sibling issues.
What's the story?
Living the good life in a New York City apartment, Max (voiced by Louis C.K.) considers himself the luckiest dog in the world at the start of THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS. But he gets upset when his beloved human, Katie (Ellie Kemper), brings home his giant, shaggy new "brother," Duke (Eric Stonestreet), from the shelter. Things get even worse for Max when he and Duke end up lost and collarless. After getting nabbed by Animal Control, they find themselves at the mercy of Snowball (Kevin Hart), a maniacal bunny with a grudge against humanity who leads an underground army of unwanted former pets. Max and Duke do their best to make it back to Katie, but it will take help from a group of Max's friends -- led by determined Pomeranian Gidget (Jenny Slate) -- for them to successfully elude Snowball and his goons.
Is it any good?
Funny and engaging, with an excellent voice cast, this animated animal adventure will entertain audiences of all ages, with perhaps an extra dollop of appeal for devoted pet owners. It's amusing to see what Max and his buddies get up to when their people are gone for the day, from watching telenovelas to raiding the fridge to rocking out to heavy metal music. And the plot, while not exactly unique (it's hard to miss the parallels to Toy Story, for instance), moves at a good clip, with enough twists and imaginative details to keep you fully engaged.
While meaningful messages aren't quite as front-and-center in The Secret Life of Pets as they were in, say Zootopia, the movie has clear themes of perseverance and teamwork. And Max and Duke's sibling-like relationship could particularly resonate with blended families or those dealing with rivalry/resentment issues. The characters have an appealing depth, too, aided by the talented actors providing their voices. Somewhere in the midst of Snowball's many motor-mouthed blasts, Hart conveys the bunny's underlying loneliness and sadness; this is a rabbit who truly thinks of his fellow cast-offs as family, not just minions. And Slate's Gidget proves that she's so much more than a pampered puffball; her loyalty to Max is unwavering, and she stretches far beyond her comfort zone to help him. It's easy to imagine a sequel focused on her getting the gang back together to help another one of their own; meanwhile, here's hoping they all have cozy laps to curl up on.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about which parts of The Secret Life of Pets were scary. What made them scary to you? Were you worried about the characters? How much scary stuff can young kids handle?
Why do you think Snowball is so angry? What made him hate humans so much? How else could he have handled his feelings?
Why is Max so upset when Katie brings Duke home? How do they learn to get along over the course of the movie? Can you think of real-life situations (between siblings, for instance) that are similar?
Which animal do you identify with most, and why? Do you think there's really that much difference between "dog people" and "cat people"?
- In theaters: July 8, 2016
- On DVD or streaming: December 6, 2016
- Cast: Louis C.K., Kevin Hart, Eric Stonestreet, Jenny Slate
- Directors: Chris Renaud, Yarrow Cheney
- Studio: Universal Pictures
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Cats, Dogs, and Mice, Friendship
- Character Strengths: Empathy, Perseverance, Teamwork
- Run time: 90 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: action and some rude humor
- Awards/Honors: Common Sense Seal
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.