REVIEW: “The Secret Life Of Pets” may not be very original but it delivers big laughs

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The newest, and surely the latest box office smash from Illumination Entertainment and Universal Studios arrives today as “The Secret Life Of Pets” hits theaters nationwide. The same animation studio that created those delightfully zany Minions has replaced them with cute anthropomorphic pets that are unleashed on New York.

(But first, just in case moviegoers would miss the Minions too much, they’re back anyway in the form of an all-new short playing right before the main event that plays just like you’d imagine it would: to hilarious results amid numerous poop jokes and inventive slapstick comedy.)

Kids will no doubt be very pleased with “The Secret Life Of Pets” but there’s something for everyone in the family to enjoy with the multitude of jokes, sight gags, clever puns and an almost relentless energy that permeates the entire film from start to finish. When it comes to Illumination’s approach to infusing jokes into the script, it’s not a matter of periodically throwing some spaghetti on the wall to see what sticks, it’s like throwing the entire pot and daring you not to laugh. So for every joke that may miss the mark or may make a parent roll their eyes, there’s a new zinger ready to take its place.

The inherently fast pace of the story fuels this approach, not unlike last year’s “Minions”, but I do wish there were more moments sprinkled throughout that were more like the beginning of the film where we see the pets truly interacting with each other for the sake of character development instead of being thrust into one dangerous situation after another. That’s not to say there aren’t genuinely touching moments in the film, but too often they’re bludgeoned by a rubber frying pan in an almost relentless pursuit to make you chuckle.

The opening of the film introduces us to a lovable terrier named Max, capably voiced by comedian Louis C.K., as he grows up from puppy to dog under the loving care of his master, who leaves for work every day, which in turn allows Max to interact with several other pets in the building and across the street in ways we’d never imagine when we close the front door and go about our business. All of this is fine and dandy for Max, until his owner shatters his comfortable existence by bringing in a scruffy stray by the name of Duke (Eric Stonestreet). Predictably, heads butt quickly as they are inevitably left to sort out their differences and must work together to return home after they get separated from their dog walker after one spat between them goes too far.

Yes, it’s all very “Toy Story” without the creative idea of toys coming to life and instead replacing it with talking animals. Yet it still works for the most part because of its surprising warmth, memorable sidekicks and imaginative scenes — particularly at a sausage factory where Max and Duke eat to their heart’s content, which for whatever reason brings about vivid and hilarious hallucinations. Comedy veterans such as Albert Brooks and Dana Carvey lend their considerable talents while the ubiquitous Kevin Hart gets to let out his manic energy as the terrifying (but kind of cute anyway) rabbit Snowball, who is determined to make humans pay for what they’ve done to his discarded and unwanted pals.

Alas, despite its flaws the bottom line is that it’s a family film that delivers laughs and is a crowd-pleaser for its target audience. So it’s mission accomplished once more for Illumination Entertainment, though they’d be wise to start stretching their considerable talents in new ways and branch out a little more. Oftentimes, I half-expected a Minion to waddle by on the streets of New York (and indeed one of the pets dresses up as one) as it looked so visually similar to their previous films. While it may be time for them to start thinking more outside of the box, there’s no doubt that “The Secret Life Of Pets” largely succeeds on its own terms and is a perfectly fine way to entertain the kids on summer vacation.

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