Monday, August 20, 2018
Things To Do

Review: 'The Secret Life of Pets' is hilarious and heartwarming

If anything stirs imagination in children of all ages more than toys, it's pets. One animation franchise nailed the former's fantasies, now it's Fido and Fluffy's turn.

The Secret Life of Pets surely isn't in the same pioneering league as Pixar's Toy Story trilogy, although creatively and emotionally they're similar. The shared conceit of "what do they do when we're gone?" is irresistible; this answer's escalation into madcap comedy is nearly as clever.

It's an impressive step forward for Illumination Entertainment, the folks behind the Despicable Me franchise. Co-directed by studio linchpin Chris Renaud and protege Yarrow Cheney, The Secret Life of Pets is funnier than Zootopia and fresher than Finding Dory. Bonus points for a genuinely touching finale that had me crying behind my 3-D glasses.

Set mainly in a gloriously drawn Manhattan, The Secret Life of Pets is centered on Max (voice of Louis C.K.), a giveaway terrier taken in by Katie (Ellie Kemper), bonding through several years. One day Katie brings home another dog, burly Duke (Eric Stonestreet), and rivalry ensues, including a vandalism frame-up brilliantly playing the human-as-we card.

That canine conflict is only a sliver of the anthropomorphic detours this movie takes. For reasons too wild to spoil, Max and Duke wind up outside the apartment, in the company of a tiny, white bunny named Snowball, hilariously voiced by Kevin Hart. Snowball leads a sewer-based revolt of abandoned pets, from crocodiles to sea monkeys. The contrast of Hart's bombast and C.K.'s sigh-speak is terrific.

Max and Duke's disappearance ignites a dog hunt by neighboring pets. Perky puffball Gidget (Jenny Slate) has a crush on Max. Fat cat Chloe (Lake Bell) and a dimwit bulldog (Bobby Moynihan) join a detour to Brooklyn, where an aged, paralyzed beagle (Dana Carvey) has advice.

Comedy is compounded by ingenious details Renaud and Cheney cram into this world, set against a quasi-photorealistic New York. Everything around these talking critters seems so possible that it rubs off on the wildest fantasies; a forboding neighborhood of ratty stray cats, Max's duel with Snowball's hench-snake, a Busby Berkeley-style musical hallucination in a sausage factory.

Each vocal performance is wonderful, none more than Albert Brooks as Tiberius, a hungry hawk whose sinister first meeting with Gidget is the closest The Secret Life of Pets comes to Pixar brilliance. This role and Marlin in Finding Dory makes Brooks the summer's most valuable voice.

Preceding the feature is Mower Minions, a short starring the breakout stars from Despicable Me, confirming their jabbering silliness works better in small doses. Seeking money for a smoothie blender, the Minions steal lawn care equipment, wreaking havoc in an assisted living facility's yard.

Despite wincing references to Mexican gardeners ("Choppa la grassa?") and doddering seniors, Mower Minions is a peppy, if uninspired start, milking the childish comedy potential of bare butts and dog poop. Ah, summer.

Contact Steve Persall at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall on Twitter.

Comments
Restaurant review: At Haveli Indian Kitchen, it’s nice to see a solid, well-priced Indian buffet in the Carrollwood area

Restaurant review: At Haveli Indian Kitchen, it’s nice to see a solid, well-priced Indian buffet in the Carrollwood area

CARROLLWOODI was curious. I looked up "haveli." It’s an Indian word that means mansion, usually one with historical and architectural significance. Huh. That doesn’t exactly describe the building in a shopping center off Dale Mabry Highway in which H...
Updated: 29 minutes ago
What’s new and what’s not at Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party

What’s new and what’s not at Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party

Sweating in mid-August in Florida isn’t unusual. But sweating in a Snow White costume and lining up for Halloween candy, that might be unusual. That was the scene on Friday when a sold-out crowd showed up for the first of 34 nights of Mickey’s Not So...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Colin Jost of SNL’s ‘Weekend Update’ coming to the Capitol Theatre in Clearwater

Colin Jost of SNL’s ‘Weekend Update’ coming to the Capitol Theatre in Clearwater

We are positively awash this week in local tour news the stars of Saturday Night Live.On Wednesday, Chris Redd will headline a back-to-school comedy show at Orlando's CFE Arena for students at the University of Central Florida. From Friday to Sunday,...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Jobsite Theater strikes an energetic chord with ‘Hedwig and the Angry Inch’

Jobsite Theater strikes an energetic chord with ‘Hedwig and the Angry Inch’

TAMPA — Jobsite Theater and Hedwig and the Angry Inch, the season opener, share a 20th anniversary. The show debuted Off-Broadway in 1998. Jobsite opened the same year, and first performed the rock musical five years ago at the David A. Straz Jr. Cen...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Trans-Siberian Orchestra coming to Amalie Arena in Tampa

Trans-Siberian Orchestra coming to Amalie Arena in Tampa

Winter is coming. And with it, as always, comes the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.The long-running rock symphony experience will return to Tampa's Amalie Arena for two shows (3 and 7:30 p.m.) on Dec. 16, according to an announcement from the organization....
Updated: 3 hours ago

Hernando Events for Aug. 24

Events24 FridayArc Nature Coast Summer Sizzler Dance: Tickets include food and beverage, and music by P.J. the D.J. 7 to 10 p.m. $5 per person (parents, Arc staff and children ages 10 and younger are free). Arc Nature Coast Education Center and Regio...
Published: 08/20/18

Sports on TV/radio for Monday, August 20

TODAYBaseballRoyals at Rays7 p.m.Fox Sun; 620-AMCardinals at Dodgers10 p.m.MLBBaseball, youth leagueAmerican Legion World Series4 p.m.ESPNUAmerican Legion World Series7 p.m.ESPNUBaseball, Little League World SeriesElimination game11 a.m.ESPNEliminati...
Published: 08/19/18

Main Street Zephyrhills seeks volunteers

ZEPHYRHILLS — Every year, Main Street Zephyrhills hosts 13 to 14 events in the downtown area. Simple gatherings such as the "Saturday in the Square Classic Car Cruise In" (5 to 8 p.m. Saturday) help to highlight local businesses in the quaint downtow...
Published: 08/19/18
Review: Journey, Def Leppard defy Father Time, thrill 17,500 fans at Amalie Arena in Tampa

Review: Journey, Def Leppard defy Father Time, thrill 17,500 fans at Amalie Arena in Tampa

The inevitable question a double bill like Def Leppard and Journey begs is this: Which of the two classic rock hit machines, both well into their 50s and 60s, still rocks the hardest? Stick around, we'll get there in a minute.First, though, can we ta...
Updated: 6 hours ago

Sports on TV/radio for Sunday, August 19

TODAYAutosIndyCar: ABC Supply 5002 p.m.NBCSNNHRA: Lucas Oil Nationals2 p.m.FS1BaseballRays at Red Sox1 p.m.Fox Sun; 620-AMBlue Jays at Yankees1 p.m.TBSMarlins at Nationals1:30 p.m.FSFMets at Phillies7 p.m.ESPN; 620-AMBaseball, AmateurJunior League fi...
Published: 08/18/18