In the interest of full disclosure, it should be noted that there's a Jack Russell living in my house. One that looks quite a bit like Max, the white-and-patchy-brown terrier voiced with a canny canine neediness by Louis C.K. in the animated (extremely animated) The Secret Life of Pets.
The fact that Max is one of the movie's panting principals - and that he can be seen in the opening montage sitting upright, nose high, in the basket of his owner's bike as she pedals through Central Park - well, my critical faculties have pretty much just gone out the window.
Which, I'll wager, will be the case for audience members who have a beloved pooch or kitty at home - or a perky parakeet, hapless guinea pig, or a twitchy bunny, for that matter. Directed by the Despicable Me franchise's Chris Renaud, The Secret Life of Pets is a pet-lover's loving salute to the domesticated animals we rely on to bring us comfort, companionship, and triple-digit veterinary bills.
Set in a bright, bustling Big Apple, The Secret Life of Pets is about what happens when the humans go off to work, leaving their four-legged friends back in the apartment to fend for themselves. It's also about what happens one fateful evening when the perky human Katie (the voice of Ellie Kemper) returns home to Max with a shaggy brown beast rescued from the pound. Accustomed to getting all the attention (not to mention all the food), Max does not welcome the messy behemoth named Duke (Eric Stonestreet). Territorial disputes ensue.
So does a crazy plotline involving an underground gang of revolutionaries called the Flushed Pets, led by a white rabbit with a bitter view of humankind (yes, Kevin Hart as a bunny named Snowball - talk about color-blind casting!).
There's a scary clowder of alley cats. There's a trained hawk who sounds an awful lot like Albert Brooks (it is). A pampered Pomeranian (Jenny Slate), a rotund tabby (Lake Bell), and a dachshund with a novel use for the electric mixer add to the madcap menagerie. And yes, there is a tattooed pig.
In one epic chase, Max bounds through city intersections, leaping through the open windows of crisscrossing cabs (go, Jack Russell, go!), intent on saving Duke from the clutches of Animal Control. And there's a dramatic rescue, too, in the churning depths below the Brooklyn Bridge. There's also an elaborate song-and-dance number in a sausage factory. A real, um, Busby Bark-Ley production.
In much the same way that the smash Zootopia demonstrated that creatures of different culture and class and species are better off when they come together, The Secret Life of Pets is a testament to teamwork and friendship and fixing the rifts that divide us.
Let the fur - and the warm, fuzzy feelings - fly.
The Secret Life of Pets
*** (Out of four stars)
Directed by Chris Renaud with Yarrow Cheney. With the voices of Louis C.K., Kevin Hart, Jenny Slate, Eric Stonestreet, and Ellie Kemper. Distributed by Universal Pictures.
Running time: 1 hour, 30 mins.
Parent's guide: PG (some scares for little kids).
Playing at: Area theaters.