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Review: ‘The Secret Life of Pets’

I should start this by saying that I’ve been looking forward to writing a review of “The Secret Life of Pets” since its trailer debuted more than a year ago. I have a little gray ball of purring fur at home who has me wrapped around her paw (she was rescued from Greenville Humane Society many years ago, I’d like to add). She isn’t simply my pet. She’s part of our family, so I was sold by the “Toy Story” concept of “what do they do when we’re gone?”

It turns out our animals do a lot, at least according to “The Secret Life of Pets.”

Its story is centered on Max (voiced by Louis C.K.), a terrier who has lived in bliss in a New York apartment building with Katie (voiced by Ellie Kemper) for some time when she unexpectedly comes home with another dog. Big, furry and grateful to have a home, Duke (voiced by Eric Stonestreet) is a mutt rescued from an animal shelter, but Max doesn’t care. Sibling rivalry ensues as Max does everything he can to get rid of Duke so he and Katie can return to their solitude. When one of his frame-ups gets out of hand, both Max and Duke end up collarless and alone on the streets. Their disappearance is noticed by their friends — neighboring pets that include the perky purebred Gidget, who has a crush on Max, fat cat Chloe, who is Max’s best friend, and Buddy, a sarcastic but up-for-anything dachshund. Their rescue attempt is a hilarious subplot while Max and Duke fall into one adventure after another trying to find their way home.

The best thing about “The Secret Life of Pets” is that the filmmakers somehow manage to make each of the unique pets seem real, with vibrant personalities that will no doubt remind you of your own fur balls at home. Kids will love this movie, but adults will probably be surprised by how much fun they have watching it, too — especially if they love animals.

However, if you’re thinking of taking the kids to see “The Secret Life of Pets” this weekend, here are some things you should know first.

The movie includes a pre-show feature called “Mower Minions,” which is a short animated film starring the Minions from “Despicable Me.” This time they are trying to earn money to buy a blender they see on TV, so they steal lawn equipment and wreak havoc at a nursing home. Expect glimpses of bare behinds, gross dog poop jokes and some rude humor.

“The Secret Life of Pets” doesn’t feature any profanity, but it does have an instance of implied profanity when a character yells "holy schnitzel!" There is no sex or implied sex scenes either. The biggest concern will be from scenes of danger and peril, usually involving the pets trying to escape animal control and each other.

I should note some of those scenes might scare children, especially given recent events and if seen in 3D. An alligator is chasing the pets through a sewer and snaps its jaws down hard toward the camera. An enormous, scary-looking snake also tries to eat the pets and is killed. Sensitive children might be affected.

Parents, I also hope you’ll point out to kids that some of the scenes shouldn’t be copied at home. For example, one dog is swung around by his leash and dragged down a street by another dog.

Overall, “The Secret Life of Pets” is simply a fun movie to watch, and it also delivers some positive messages about friendship, loyalty, accepting others who are different from you, adoption and the importance of sharing. Yes, there is also a subtle message about animal rescue, but don't worry. It’s not heavy handed or meant to guilt anyone into heading to the nearest shelter, much. However, you should be prepared to be asked, “Can we get a cat/dog/bird?” many times after seeing this movie. More so, the story's message is that we should treat our pets with thoughtfulness and respect — a lesson we could all benefit from with each other as well.

The bottom line: this animated feature from Illumination Entertainment is funny, heartwarming and surprisingly touching and, in my opinion, surpasses anything the studio has released so far. Thankfully, “The Secret Life of Pets” also lived up to my expectations. It's easily one of the most entertaining movies I’ve seen this year.

It is is rated PG for action and some rude humor. It opens Friday in theaters nationwide.

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