“Another Sucker Found” — that was the sign on the take-home box that held the first pet I ever adopted, a kitty named Fitzie. The same principle applies to all of you who see The Secret Life of Pets, an animated fluffball that does everything to drive you crazy and ends up by being totally irresistible. Have you ever imagined what your pet does when you leave the house? Then this is the movie for you. Chris Renaud (Despicable Me) and his co-director Yarrow Cheney pull out all the stops in the too-busy script by Cinco Paul, Ken Daurio and Brian Lynch (Minions). Sometimes you wish they’d pull back a little on the throttle. But they know how to use this Toy Story with critters to get loads of laughs and put a lump in your throat.
The story starts simply when Katie (voiced by Ellie Kemper) disrupts her domestic bliss with her Jack Russell terrier Max (Louis C.K.) by bringing home a BFG of a mutt named Duke (Eric Stonestreet) . Chaos ensues. The pooches go at each other to the delight of other pets who watch through the windows of their New York apartment building. They include Gidget (Jenny Slate), a white Pomeranian with a crush on Max, and Chloe (Lake Bell), a snob cat with a mouth on her. Oh yeah, these pets talk, like crazy!
They also band together when needed, especially when Duke gets lost and Max leads a chase to find them. It’s a scary world out there, and not just because of feral beasties and animal-control brigades. Gidget asks help from the unlikeliest places, such as Tiberius (Albert Brooks), a predatory hawk, and Pops (Dana Carvey), a limping Bassett Hound. But the fiercest adversary comes in the form of a coalition of abandoned animals called the Flushed Pets. As led by a street-talking rabbit named Snowball (a vocal comic tour de force from Kevin Hart) — he only looks sweet and cuddly — the Flushed Pets are hellbent on the destruction of humans.
Yes, the movie goes a little dark at times, especially when we meet Snowball’s scary crew in the sewers (the film’s animation high point). Also, in the pileup of fur and feathers, you may forget who is who — not to worry, however, since the action and laughs are nonstop. There’s also a scene that shows pet owners coming home at the end of the day to embrace the animals who’ve entered their lives to wreak havoc but also to give them a rare shot at unconditional love. I choked up a little. You will too. Another sucker found.