The Secret Life of Pets looks like a pretty unsurprising, uninspired animated feature. My 6-year-old niece—who loved it, by the way—even called it out for being Toy Story with pets. Then the movie begins, and Louis C.K. starts doing his hilarious thing as Max, a cute little terrier belonging to Katie (v. Ellie Kemper), and it becomes one of the most appealing feature-length cartoons that does not belong to Pixar.
When Max gets lost, thanks to his huge new roommate, Duke (v. Eric Stonestreet), the incredible journey you expect is not quite the adventure you get. The domesticated duo ends up in the sewers with animal terrorists led by an angry rabbit named Snowball (v. Kevin Hart), who riles up the abandoned pet alligators, snakes and more. Meanwhile, Max’s pals—Pomeranian Gidget (v. Jenny Slate), Chloe the cat (v. Lake Bell), red-tailed hawk Tiberius (v. Albert Brooks), doggie pals Buddy and Mel (v. Hannibal Buress and Bobby Moynihan), bird Sweet Pea (v. Tara Strong) and a paralyzed old hound who answers to Pops (v. Dana Carvey)—trek across the city in search of their lost friend.
The voice work is as exceptional as audiences have come to expect from these A-list casts, but hot comic C.K. raises the bar with his trademark gruff, humanistic likability. He and Hart should do more cartoon work. From merchandising to more movies, The Secret Life of Pets has the potential to be a huge franchise; hopefully, we will not forget the absolutely charming film that begat its sure-to-expand brand. This film is my pick for family flick of the summer. (No, the newest Ice Age will not dethrone it.)