Admittedly, Pixar’s “Toy Story” came up with the fantasy first, but this animated adventure, set in Manhattan, explores the concept of what your pets might be up to when you’re gone for the day. Beginning with a merchandising short featuring lawn-mowing Minions from “Despicable Me,” the main story kicks into gear as Katie (Ellie Kemper) disrupts the domestic tranquility of her beloved Jack Russell terrier Max (Louis CD.K.) by bringing home a huge, shaggy mutt named Duke (Eric Stonestreet). Read on…
Filled with resentment about Duke’s desire for dominance, caustic Max turns to Chloe (Lake Bell), the neighbor’s lazy Russian blue cat, along with his close circle of canine pals, including the pug Mel (Bobby Moynihan), dachshund Buddy (Hannibal Buress) and fluffy white Pomeranian Gidget (Jenny Slate), who has a major crush on Max.
Then, one day, when their dog-walker becomes distracted, Duke takes off in the park, clutching Max’s leash in his mouth. Soon, they’re lost and fall into the clutches of a manic, street-wise rabbit, Snowball (Kevin Hart), vindictive leader of the Flushed Pets, a group of resentful, sewer-dwelling animals who loathe the humans who abandoned them.
Worried that Max is missing, Gidget enlists help from Tiberius (Albert Brooks), a predatory falcon who lives on the roof, and they eventually wind up in Brooklyn with Pops, an elderly, partially-paralyzed Bassett Hound, who slyly knows his way around better than anyone else.
Working from an idea by Illumination Entertainment’s Chris Meledandri and a script by Cinco Paul, Ken Daurio and Brian Lynch, directors Chris Renaud and Yarrow Cheney cheerfully sentimentalize the four-pawed characters, giving them distinctly human characteristics, even the fish, parakeet and guinea pig.
The action pieces are diverting, particularly when Max and Duke explore a sausage factory, where they gorge themselves into a stupor, but the redundant animal-catcher chases grow tedious.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Secret Life of Pets” fetches a sweetly spirited 6, providing a 90-minute diversion for youngsters who have already seen “Finding Dory.”