Anyone who follows anything I do in social media (or in real life for that matter) knows that I absolutely adore animals. Dogs, cats, squirrels, you name it and I probably think it is adorable and in need of a serious petting. I have often wondered what my dog and three cats do when left alone all day when I am at work and so this movie thankfully gave me all the answers.
…OK, maybe not. But what it did give me was a very fun movie that moved along at a very breezy pace with some adorable talking animals voiced by some very talented actors/comedians and a cute story to go along with it. I was very impressed with the film even though I knew I was going to enjoy it as I entered the theatre.
The story is this: young Max (Louis C.K.) is the happiest little dog along with his owner, Katie (Ellie Kemper). However, one day she brings home a new dog named Duke (Eric Stonestreet) and to say the two don’t immediately become friends would be the understatement of the year. Eventually after a mishap where they both end up lost in the city they must depend on each other all the while avoiding an evil bunny (Kevin Hart) and his gang while the other housepets back home (including the most adorable animated dog ever named Gidget (Jenny Slate), Chloe the cat (Lake Bell), Mel the pug (Bobby Moynihan), Buddy the wiener dog (Hannibal Buress), Tiberius the hawk (Albert Brooks) and an elderly dog simply named Pops (Dana Carvey)) attempt to locate and save them as well.
As you can see, this film is chock-full of celebrity voice actors but they all mesh well with their characters, especially with Jenny Slate as the cutest little dog named Gidget. She has proven to be a strong force in animated films and seems to have found her calling after a slow start to her career with her short stint on SNL and her only real claim to fame after that being the “Marcel the Shell” cartoons. Louis C.K. and Eric Stonestreet are both strong leads too and it’s nice to see two people you wouldn’t expect play the lead roles and still pull it off. Bobby Moynihan is also a favourite of mine as a loveable pug named Mel. He doesn’t get a lot to do but shines whenever he is on-screen. I have never been a huge Kevin Hart fan, especially when he acts like a nutball in comedies but I think animated movies might truly be his calling. Here he is able to let loose and be as over-the-top as possible but it works within the frame of a fun cartoon such as this.
The film has some strong themes of friendship and loyalty that you would expect from a movie like this but does it in a way so that it’s not overbearing and constantly hitting you over the head with “subtlety.” The characters are all a lot of fun and the movie never really tries to be anything more than that: fun. Sure, there are a few heavy moments like when Duke searches for his old owner or when we see the sewer where the misfit former pets live but they are still handled with enough levity that we never feel dread or take anything too seriously. The best moments in the film as far as the comedy is concerned are parts where the animals do very animalistic things like a dog peeing in excitement for example. The human qualities they take on are very funny as well but when they revert back to their true selves it’s a constant reminder that no matter how we attribute humanistic attributes to them they are still animals when it comes down to brass tacks.
I had a lot of fun with this. It’s up there with Dory but not quite at the level of Zootopia, which I still think will end up best animated film of the year. Ball’s in your court, Sing.
PS: There’s a “Minions” short before the film as well. It’s surprisingly funny!
* (Brutal; the worst rating)
** (Some elements keep it from being awful but still not very good)
*** (Completely watchable; a rental as old-timers might say)
**** (Great film with a few things here and there keeping it from being perfect)
***** (Flawless; a true achievement)