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Film review: The Secret Life of Pets – the year’s cutest cartoon from Minions team

From a death-metal-loving poodle to two lost puppies and sewer-dwelling animal rejects, plot provides plenty of laughs and spot-on observations of pet behaviour, even if it lacks some emotional punch

PUBLISHED : Monday, 27 June, 2016, 8:17am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 28 June, 2016, 12:52pm

4/5 stars

The new animation from Illumination, the company that gave us those little yellow Minions, has already produced one of the best trailers of the past 12 months. You’ve probably seen it by now, as cats, dogs and other pets get up to all manner of mischief while their owners are at work. The poodle that listens to death metal is a particular stroke of genius. The question is – does The Secret Life of Pets have more than just lovely sight gags?

The answer is, eventually, yes. The slightly perfunctory plot sees loveable canine Max (voiced by Louis C.K.) contend with another dog when his mistress brings home Duke (Eric Stonestreet) from the pound. Soon fighting, these two pups then get lost in Manhattan, facing all manner of obstacles from scrawny alley cats to a group of sewer-dwelling “flushed pets”, led by psycho bunny Snowball (Kevin Hart, hilarious), who were all abandoned by their heartless owners.

Co-directed by Chris Renaud, best known for Despicable Me and its sequel, the film’s middle act is blighted by too many 3D chase scenes to be really interesting, as Max’s smitten neighbour Gidget (Jenny Slate) mounts a rescue operation. Still, even here, there are some great characters – notably Albert Brooks’ hawk Tiberius, torn between helping the pets and eating them – and surreal moments, such as Duke and Max’s trip to a hot dog factory.

But it’s not until the finale that Pets really makes you care for these domesticated creatures. What does work throughout is the filmmakers’ spot-on observation of pet behaviour. From cats squeezing themselves into random receptacles to dogs chasing aimless balls, the delight of Pets is in the YouTube-inspired detail.

Coupled with an eclectic soundtrack (Beastie Boys’ No Sleep Till Brooklyn and Bill Withers’ Lovely Day, two songs that have probably never shared a playlist, are aired), Pets may lack the emotional punch of Pixar’s finest, but it’s certainly the cutest cartoon this year.

The Secret Life of Pets opens on June 30

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