The Secret Life of Pets: Funny and sad — two out of five stars (spoiler alert)

A sometimes happy marriage.

I laughed. I cried. And then I cried a little more.

Don't go by me, though: I cry at dog food commercials. Nevertheless, The Secret Life of Pets started on an up note, then brought you way down, and, try as it might, it never really made it all the way back up. On second thought, maybe do go by me: I know a lot of people who cried at that Iams commercial with the puppy getting old and gray, too.

Mixing sadness with happiness is a sweet spot that's hard to hit. Disney and Pixar have mastered it. Hell, Disney may have invented it. Unfortunately, this is not a Disney/Pixar film. It's an Illumination Entertainment/Universal Pictures gig.

The voices — Louis C.K. as a tiny wanna-be alpha named Max, Albert Brooks as the curmudgeonly hawk, Eric Stonestreet as the shaggy mound of dog (perhaps an ungroomed Bouvier des Flandres?) — help tremendously, if you're an adult who appreciates them. That's a big if for a summer movie with lots of daytime showings: Kids must rely on the writing and visuals, and it's a shame Illumination/Universal didn't consider that more. Some of the best gags will go over kids' heads, like the hipster dogwalkers and the pet pig tattooed like cuts of pork. Come to think of it, the funniest bits after the first five minutes will appeal more to the adults than the kids, which means, for kids, this is a damn depressing movie.

Spoilers ahead

Don't get me wrong — Illumination/Universal's done that first few minutes and a many other smaller moments quite well. In between those moments, though, the movie gets damn depressing with scores of abandoned pets, a dead owner and one particularly horrid scene where a dog is trapped in a cage underwater after a car accident. What the hell, Hollywood?

As I said, The Secret Life of Pets did make me laugh, but the laughs were never as big as the cries. As in, I cried for about the last 20 minutes of the movie, although it does have a happy ending. If you, like me, want to know what sort of sad to expect in a movie with dogs, you're about to have your fears assuaged:

No dogs die.

A snake dies. Horribly, and in a way that's supposed to be reminiscent of Wile E. Coyote v. RoadRunner, but remember, no one dies in the old Looney Tunes. This snake — one of those castoff pets, by the way — does not bounce back.

Worse than the snake, we learn that a dog's owner has died and we get to discover it right along with the dog. Seriously? I'm crying right now remembering it.

I'm not sure if the movie's trying to make a social statement about abandoning pets or not, but the end result was me, walking out of the theater thinking about castoff pets and dogs in shelters because their owners died, and really, that's not what the trailer promises. The trailer suggests a hysterical movie, and makes no mention of all the other feels we'll get to experience in 90 minutes. It's a shame, and a little sad, that a film marketed as a kids movie lures kids in with the promise of dachshunds getting Kitchen-Aid massages and gives them an almost-relentless string of tragic concepts some kids may need explained to them after the movie, like Mommy, why couldn't the dog go back to his owner? Daddy, why do people put pets in the sewer? When Grandma dies is the same thing going to happen to Colin Firth (grandma's parakeet, not the actor)?

Almost as sad? You can see the best parts of this movie by watching the trailer. 

At the end of the day, The Secret Life of Pets wasn't a bad way to spend a Tuesday night, but I'm glad I didn't have to buy my own ticket.

About The Author

Cathy Salustri

Cathy's portfolio includes pieces for Visit Florida, USA Today and regional and local press. In 2016, UPF published Backroads of Paradise, her travel narrative about retracing the WPA-era Florida driving tours that was featured in The New York Times. Cathy speaks about Florida history for the Osher Lifelong Learning...
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