Synopsis: A cute little dog named Max loves and lives for his owner. He has a network of friends he hangs out with once their owners are gone that includes dogs, cats, birds, and a hamster. Then – disaster. She brings home a big dog that takes over his bed and his home.
Max is mad. He wants to get rid of the dog. And in the process they both end up lost in New York City and it’s up to their friends to find them and bring them home.
So basically – Toy Story with pets. Super cute pets. Max has a female dog in love with him that teams up with a falcon hawk. Max and ‘dumb oaf’ have adventures, fall into a group of ‘flushed’ and abandoned animals who hate humanity and then run afowl of them, have a nitrate induced trip about singing hot dogs, learn to love each other and make it home in time for dinner.
The Good: The animation is slick. It’s made by the company that created the Minions and Despicable Me, so that’s expected. The voices didn’t distract me with the ‘oh, it’s THAT celebrity’ like some animation does when they go for A-list actors instead of voice artists (even though the film was still mostly populated by actors). The story was, for the most part, light fluff with a lot of silly laughs. They also did a good job with characterizing some of the animals, showing a true love for pets. You could tell who in the theater was a dog or cat owner by when they laughed.
The most laughs were probably garnered by the interactions with Snowball, a homicidal bunny voiced by Kevin Hart. Snowball leads a group of abandoned pets that includes snakes and alligators and rats on top of cats and dogs and a pig that was used as a tattoo tester/canvas. All of their actions are wonderfully over the top hilarious and borderline inappropriate to the point that I was chuckling, ‘oh, god,’ quite a bit throughout.
The Bad: There is one 10-15 minute scene somewhere in the middle that feels tacked on an like the writer was told the film was to short and ‘create backstory for that other dog.’ It’s also a scene of forced pathos. In it, our hero Max talks to other dog about going back to his home, one he apparently ran away from before getting caught by Animal Control. We are shown flashbacks of him and his owner, an elderly black man. The only non-white person I remember in the film. They go to the house and there is now a cat there who tells our heroes that the old man died and someone else owns the house now. Other dog gets mad at Max for forcing him to go and runs off, angry, while animal control is called.
It’s bad for a couple reason. First off, it’s just badly written or placed and feels overly manipulative. Secondly, this shows the only non-white person in the film AND HE DIES. Even in a kids animated film the black guy can’t survive.
The Female: This is about animals, yes. Neutered animals (it’s mentioned). Yet there is still the normal gender politics at play. It would not pass the Bechdel test (two female characters, talking, and about something other than the man). Here are the female players:
The owner: She’s a woman who rescues dogs from the pound, or enough to start the story.
Gidget: She’s a fluffy white powder puff of a pomeranian type dog and is in love with Max. The joke is that he doesn’t really even notice her and she’s obsessed. She’s the one who leaves the charge to rescue him. It isn’t until she Karate chops her way to save them that he sees her as more than the fluffy white thing that always says hello to him.
Chloe: A mackerel/gray tabby cat that’s friends with Max when it suits her, but also knows how to rally the troops to help save him when it’s needed.
Annndddd, that’s it. IMDB lists one other female named Maria but I don’t remember her. The female voices get a chance to talk a bit, have their own jokes, but not a life outside of Max.
Overall: This was fun. It’s always sad when even in kids films the same racial and gender roles play out, especially one about animals where you have a chance to go elsewhere. But I still laughed and if you want to not think, it’s not a bad way to go.