The Secret Life of Pets

Movie review by
Betsy Bozdech, Common Sense Media
The Secret Life of Pets Movie Poster Image
 Popular with kids
Adventure is clever and engaging, despite animals in peril.
  • PG
  • 2016
  • 90 minutes

Parents say

age 10+
Based on 164 reviews

Kids say

age 7+
Based on 101 reviews

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We think this movie stands out for:

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Educational Value

In addition to social-emotional lessons regarding teamwork and empathy, kids may pick up a little bit about animal behavior/habits and New York City.

Positive Messages

While there's a lot of anger/revenge going on, the messages about perseverance, teamwork, and empathy are ultimately positive (if not as clearly stated as in some kids' movies). To wit: never stop trying, and you can get a lot more done with the right team than you can by yourself. Be open to new friends and the experiences that life brings -- change can be hard but also rewarding (especially when it comes to new "siblings"). Loyalty and friendship are key to success. Think about others' feelings.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Max initially fears and dislikes Duke; he doesn't want to share Katie (or anything else) with his new "brother." But over the course of the movie, he comes to value Duke and learns that he can live with change. Duke starts out impulsive and pushy but also grows and changes to become more helpful and less defensive. Snowball is very angry; he hates humans because he was abandoned and dreams of revenge -- but he also steps up when circumstances demand. Gidget is loyal, determined, and fearless; she refuses to give up on Max, no matter what stands in her way. Tiberius manages to control his impulses to help his new friend.

Violence & Scariness

Frequent danger and peril. Chase scenes on foot and in vehicles (driven erratically and dangerously by animals); cars/buses crash into other vehicles, buildings, bridges, and more (sometimes catching on fire), and characters are pursued through dank, gloomy sewers. At one point it looks like a main character may not survive. Some scary/intimidating animals, including mangy alley cats, a huge viper, an alligator, a hungry hawk, and other predators; one unsympathetic character dies in an altercation. Human Animal Control officers go after several characters on multiple occasions and sometimes succeed in grabbing them and locking them up in cages. Some animal characters want all humans to die; a couple lie and say they've killed their owners (and go into detail about how the supposedly did it). Animals yell/growl/hiss/bark/yowl at and threaten each other and wreak havoc in human living spaces (messes, broken decor, etc.). Pratfalls and physical humor.

Sexy Stuff

Gidget watches a telenovela-like TV show with some embraces between passionate characters. She also has a huge crush on Max and at one point pounces on and licks him.


Insults/rude language includes "dumb," "dummies," "stupid" (several times), "weirdo," "shut it," "suckers," "idiots," "ugly," "crazy," "poo poo," "caca," "cry baby," "big fat brown dog," "bad dog," "got a screw loose," and "freak." Also one use of the swear stand-in "holy schnitzel." Lyrics for soundtrack songs include the word "hell."


YouTube logo is shown when a cat video goes viral. Associated product tie-ins outside the movie -- toys, books, games, apparel, etc.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Max and Duke almost seem to get high on sausages during their interlude in the meat factory -- they share a hallucination-like vision of a magic land full of singing, dancing meat products.

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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written bywptornop July 8, 2016

Surprised the writers have kids - they clearly have different sensibilities than I do...

My wife and I quite often find ourselves looking at each other in disbelief during kids' movies, wondering what in the world the writers were thinking. Th... Continue reading
Parent of a 5 and 8-year-old Written bynicholea1 July 7, 2016

Scary Movie for younger kids

I took my 5 yo and 8yo to see this tonight and my 5yo left the theater with tears in his eyes. Pets talk about killing their owners, very scary snakes and othe... Continue reading
Kid, 8 years old August 19, 2016

scary,for a 5 year old.Very good movie

Crude humor is very frequent.In one scene, a car explodes.Some scenes they talk about pets killing there owners,scary snakes.They show gross stuff too.But,othe... Continue reading
Kid, 10 years old August 13, 2016

High Expectations, a TINY Bit Dissapointing

Nothing to get TOO excited over. "Hell of a day" can be faintly heard in a song in the background. Also "holy schnitzel". All brand names a... Continue reading

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?

  • How do the characters demonstrate empathy, teamwork, and perseverance? Why are these important character strengths?

  • 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"?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love animals

Character Strengths

Find more movies that help kids build character.

Themes & Topics

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