Monday, April 23, 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
It’s a boy! Kate Middleton gives birth to third royal baby

It’s a boy! Kate Middleton gives birth to third royal baby

LONDON — Kensington Palace says the Duchess of Cambridge has given birth to her third child, a boy weighing 8 pounds, 7 ounces (3.8 kilograms).The palace says the child was born at 11:01 a.m. (1001 GMT), a few hours after Kate was admitted to London’...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Underoath’s Spencer Chamberlain talks addiction, ditching the band’s ‘Christian’ label, moving back to St. Pete and more

Underoath’s Spencer Chamberlain talks addiction, ditching the band’s ‘Christian’ label, moving back to St. Pete and more

HGTV fanatic that he is, Spencer Chamberlain sees a metaphor for his band in the ever-evolving St. Petersburg skyline."When you go downtown and you look at the ONE, that used to be a dirt parking lot," said the singer, referring to a 41-story condo t...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Review: Kenny Chesney goes big all night in Trip Around the Sun Tour opener at Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium

Review: Kenny Chesney goes big all night in Trip Around the Sun Tour opener at Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium

You could drop all kinds of stats trying to size up Kenny Chesney's Trip Around the Sun Tour, which launched its 2018 run at Tampa's Raymond James Stadium Saturday night.There's the end zone-swallowing stage, 180 tons thick and half a skyscraper high...
Updated: 4 hours ago

Monday’s sports on TV/radio

TODAYAutosIndyCar: Grand Prix of AlabamanoonNBCSNBaseballAutosIndyCar: Grand Prix of AlabamanoonNBCSNTwins at Yankees7 p.m.ESPNMarlins at Dodgers10 p.m.FSFCollege softballTennessee at Alabama7 p.m.SECLouisville at Florida State7 p.m.ESPNUNBA playoffs...
Published: 04/22/18

Sunday’s sports on TV/radio

TODAYAutosNHRA: SpringNationals2 p.m.FS1IndyCar: Grand Prix of Alabama3 p.m.NBCSNBaseballTwins at Rays1 p.m.Fox Sun; 620-AMMarlins at Brewers2 p.m.FSFIndians at Orioles2 p.m.MLBCubs at Rockies (in progress)4 p.m.MLBNationals at Dodgers8 p.m.ESPNColle...
Published: 04/21/18
Record Store Day 2018: Vinyl lovers flock to indie record shops across Tampa Bay

Record Store Day 2018: Vinyl lovers flock to indie record shops across Tampa Bay

Record Store Day returned Saturday, and with it hundreds of early-rising vinyl lovers hoping to score exclusive records by Prince, Neil Young, Arcade Fire, Run the Jewels, the National and many others.At spots like Bananas and Daddy Kool in St. Peter...
Published: 04/21/18
Actor Verne Troyer, Mini-Me from ‘Austin Powers’ films, dead at 49

Actor Verne Troyer, Mini-Me from ‘Austin Powers’ films, dead at 49

LOS ANGELES — Actor Verne Troyer from the Austin Powers movie franchise has died. A statement provided by Troyer’s spokesperson that was also posted to his Instagram and Facebook accounts says the 49-year-old actor died Saturday. No cause or place of...
Published: 04/21/18
Top things to do in Tampa Bay for the week of April 23-29

Top things to do in Tampa Bay for the week of April 23-29

St. Anthony’s Triathlon: World class athletes and Olympians race around St. Petersburg’s Vinoy Park on Sunday ($160-$180), while kids and novices race Saturday in the Meek and Mighty. A free kick-off celebration Friday has a concert by co...
Updated: 6 minutes ago
Mystery writer Lee Goldberg, author of ‘True Fiction,’ talks Agatha Christie, and more

Mystery writer Lee Goldberg, author of ‘True Fiction,’ talks Agatha Christie, and more

NightstandLee GoldbergGoldberg, the author of 30 books, has also been a writer and producer for several TV shows, including Monk and Diagnosis Murder. His new novel is True Fiction, an Ian Ludlow mystery. When we caught up with him by phone recently ...
Published: 04/20/18
Updated: 04/21/18
RIP Avicii, an EDM superstar who helped break rave culture in America

RIP Avicii, an EDM superstar who helped break rave culture in America

Here's all you need to know about this decade's explosion of electronic dance music in America.In September of 2011, Swedish DJ Avicii played a late-night show at a nightclub on Ulmerton Road in Clearwater.By June of the following year, he was headli...
Published: 04/20/18