The first 20 minutes of this movie was boring me to tears, but then it picked up. It became a fun little action comedy, but with animated animals. It borrowed a little from Up (a butterfly distracting the dogs the way squirrels did in Up); it borrows a lot more from Toy Story. If you remember, when the parents leave in that, the toys talk and play with each other. The pets in this do that, too; but they add a little more partying and heavy metal music.
Unfortunately, the film lacks the emotion that both Up and Toy Story gave us. It also isn’t nearly as funny as either of those movies, but it had enough jokes (for the whole family) that worked.
Another similarity to Toy Story deals with the alpha dog Max, a cute terrier voiced by Louis C.K. (strangely enough, he once told a story about his dog on Conan O’Brien that was funnier than anything in this movie). He lives in Manhattan with his owner Katie (Ellie Kemper) and has a lot of neighborhood pals. There’s a pug named Mel (Bobby Moynihan of SNL) and a cute, fluffy white dog named Gidget (Jenny Slate, who was terrific in Obvious Child and the much better animated movie with animals — Zootopia). Gidget has a bit of a crush on Max, which helps when she needs to help find him later in the movie. There’s Chloe the tabby cat, voiced by Lake Bell (interesting that she wrote and starred in the movie “In a World…” about people doing voice-overs).
Katie brings home a big brown dog named Duke (Eric Stonestreet of Modern Family). The two are at odds in the beginning, but when they get lost in the Big Apple, they start to bond and have good chemistry together.
They have to deal with Animal Control always on their tails, as well as Kevin Hart, who plays an angry thug. He lives in the sewers, yet it’s hard to take his harsh words seriously, when he’s a white bunny; but he pals around with poisons snakes and alligators. They do a lot of his dirty work.
As a huge Albert Brooks fan, I liked his hawk character the most. When he was working with Gidget to rescue the two mutts, he’s always tempted to eat any animal he comes into contact with. When he gets a guinea pig in his clutches and is petting him and trying so hard to be nice and not devour him…it’s hysterical.
This is the type of movie that could be overwhelming with all the overstuffed scenarios screenwriters Cinco Paul, Ken Daurio, and Brian Lynch threw at us. Yet directors Chris Renaud and Yarrow Cheney were smart to keep them all there, because it’s one of the rare times that the many characters each brought something unique; even if that meant that a turtle, fish, or parakeet just had one or two quick scenes.
The animation was vibrant and nice to look at. As terrific as a lot of those set-pieces were (the buildings, bridges, animals, Hudson river, cars)…the film needed more warmth. It had a few moments of sweetness, but those were few and far between.
The minions short before the movie was awful, but kids will love it.
This is a film the whole family can enjoy. 3 stars out of 5.