A Dog Love Conquers All: Why Films Like ‘The Secret Life Of Pets’ Will Never Get Old


No matter what a children’s animated film claims to be about, it’s essentially always a story of love and belonging. These are the perennial human questions. Where is home? And who welcomes and cherishes us there?

Set in an autumnal New York City, The Secret Life of Pets (directed by Chris Renaud and Yarrow Cheney) is the latest film from Illumination Entertainment, the makers of Despicable Me and its despicable spinoff Minions. (Be warned: this film is accompanied by a Minions short so unfunny that, watching it, my face made an Easter Island statue look like Jim Carrey.)

It ostensibly explores what our pets do when we’re out — but most of those gags are in the first trailer. The film’s real agenda became clear to me in its closing minutes, as the owners return home to greet their pets. I cried like a burst pipe, tears rolling down my face in the dark. Amusing interspecies hijinks aside, pets are defined by their relationship to their owners. Their imagined interior worlds are small and focused on us, because we project our own emotions onto them, writ small and floofy.

The Eternal Optimism Of The Doge

It sounds hopelessly banal to say, “The secret life of pets is… love”, but what makes this simple, wholehearted film so appealing is that a dog’s love is simple and wholehearted. This is a story in which optimism always trumps cynicism; and there is nothing cynical about dogs.

Make no mistake: this is a dog film. Max (Louis CK) is hopelessly devoted to his owner, Katie (an under-used Ellie Kemper). He’s like Nipper, the model for the HMV logo. Max waits by Katie’s apartment door every day for her return, and is rudely shocked one day when Katie brings home Duke (Eric Stonestreet), a gigantic Newfoundland who promptly takes over Max’s space and — as Max is afraid — his place in Katie’s life.

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