‘Secret Life of Pets’ takes viewers on fun jaunt

SecretLifeofPets02Have you ever wondered what your pets do all day while you are at work or otherwise away from the house?

The folks at Illumination Entertainment, which created “Despicable Me,” took a run at answering that question with “The Secret Life of Pets,” and what they came up with is fun for the whole family.

The story follows a terrier named Max (voiced by Louis C.K.) who’s comfortable life with his adoring owner Katie (voiced by Ellie Kemper) is upended when she brings home a stray named Duke (voiced by Eric Stonestreet). Max doesn’t like Katie’s attention being diverted from him, especially by a huge, hairy beast like Duke.

The two instantly become enemies and Max attempts to get Duke kicked out of the house, but all of this is short lived because when Duke retaliates while at the dog park with their walker, they end up being chased by bumbling animal control officers.

Hilarity ensues as they escape, but the differences they had with each other are fading and quickly go away all together as they encounter more peril, this time in the form of a cute little bunny with homicidal tendencies, in their attempt to get home.

That bunny is named Snowball (voiced by Kevin Hart), and he is building an army of abandoned pets, a cult called “The Flushed Pets” to take revenge on humans. At first he takes Max and Duke into his folds, but when he finds out they aren’t  abandoned like they said they were. Snowball vows revenge on them as well, so the two new friends begin working together to escape Snowball and his motley crew, which includes a tattooed pig and other discarded animals.

Another encounter with animal control leads to Dukes capture, so Max sets out to rescue him.

Of course, unbeknownst to him, Max’s friends are also looking for him, led by Gidget, a white Pomeranian who has a crush on Max (voice by Jenny Slate). This rescue party includes overweight tabby cat Chloe (voiced by Lake Bell), hyperactive pug Mel (voiced by Bobby Moynihan), laid-back dachshund Buddy (voiced by Hannibal Buress), and lone bird Sweet Pea (voiced by Tara Strong). Gidget even convinces red-tailed hawk Tiberius (voiced by Albert Brooks) to help.

There are touching moments between Max and Duke, including a raid on a sausage factory to get some food and Duke telling Max about his past, but the laughs rarely stop as the movie quickly reaches its end, which finds all the animals back with their owners, Max and Gidget being in love, Max and Duke being friends, and even Snowball finding the love of a small girl who finds him and decides she’s taking him home.

The storyline was rather predictable. Adults will go into it pretty much knowing how it will all turn out. However, this movie isn’t one you should go see for the inventive plot.

No. You should go for the comedy and the animation.

The jokes and slapstick comedy didn’t stop. They might have slowed down a bit when Duke talked about his previous owner, but it was a momentary lapse in the laughs.

The animation was superb. The animals were talking and demonstrating human-like facial expressions, but the animators managed to do this without it becoming weird and the animals losing their animal traits.

“The Secret Life of Pets” is rated PG.  It has a run time of 90 minutes, and it is a fast-paced 90 minutes. The action and comedy speed the shallow storyline along. Children of all ages will love it, and so will the adults taking them.

‘Finding Dory’ struggles to find its way

Courtesy Photo
Courtesy Photo

Pixar/Disney’s latest underwater animated tale, “Finding Dory,” is the much-anticipated follow-up to the 2003 hit “Finding Nemo,” but audiences will leave the theater in disappointment.

The movie fails to match the wave of novelty it’s predecessor surfed as it broke ground in animation and enamoured audiences.

Instead, it recycles the same premise and story line of “Nemo” and struggles to be original. From the opening scene on, you feel like you have already seen this movie. You can easily guess what is going to happen next. It is familiar, but not in a comforting way.

The movie starts off with flashback of Dory, the memory-impaired blue tang (voiced by Ellen DeGeneres), as a child. It sheds interesting light on the backstory of how she lost her parents due to her short-term memory issues, but it is so formulaic that you know what is coming next.

The storyline begins a year after “Nemo,” and through a series of flashbacks, Dory begins to remember her parents.

Predictably, Dory decides she has to find them.

With the help of her clownfish friends, Marlin (voiced by Albert Brooks) and Nemo (voiced Hayden Rolence), she sets off across the ocean to find parents.

Along the way she gets more help from a cadre of sea creatures, especially an octopus named Hank (voiced by Ed O’Neill) who might be short one tentacle but more than makes up for it in cunning and his ability to change color like a chameleon.

The bulk of the film takes place at the Monterey Bay-based Marine Life Institute, which is a rehabilitation center for injured animals and the birthplace of Dory.

This allows for characters such as Hank, who are handicapped, to easily become part of the story, and it allows for laughs as the damaged sea creatures try to function properly.

However, this was one point that made me cringe a bit. A lot of the humor was derived from the plight of the handicapped, and that didn’t sit well with me.

The movie seemed to reach several natural ending points, which was a bit tiresome, before it finally came to the anticipated conclusion with an added twist for all the characters.

It is this twist that redeems the movie a bit. With it being so predictable, I was pleasantly surprised with the ending.

I appreciated how Dory swam out of the realm of sidekick into main character, and I appreciated how the title contained a deeper meaning. It wasn’t just about Dory finding her parents. It was about Dory finding herself and finally becoming a self-sufficient fish.

“Finding Dory” is rate PG. It contains some scary moments, perceived danger, mild bullying and the grieving of lost loved ones. It has a run time of 1 hour and 37 minutes.

Adults and older children who are fans of “Nemo” won’t be blown away as the story meanders its way through an attempt to recreate the magic of 2003, but uninitiated viewers will enjoy it. In fact, in a theater full of children, the noise level was low as they were transported to Dory’s underwater world.

I just wish the creator’s would have ignored Dory’s mantra of “just keep swimming” and let the movie end . . . or even better, not tried to cash in on the success of “Nemo” and make this sequel.