Maybe real pets don’t include head-banging poodles, cutthroat canines and lunatic lepus the likes of which you’ll find in The Secret Life of Pets, Universal’s animated anthropomorphized view of what they do when we’re not around. But there’s enough to confirm what every pet owner knows deep inside to be true: their fuzziest family member loves them with all its heart.
“It’s often difficult to assess emotions in our pets. We know that pets can become very attached to their people – as evidenced by their grief when separated by death or other loss,” UC Davis Veterinary Behaviorist Liz Stelow tells ArtsBeatLA. “So I don’t think our dogs are having parties or watching T.V. while we’re at work. Do they want more than they have? I don’t know. I think most dogs do. Most dogs are probably pretty underutilized brain-wise.”
Max, a terrier voiced by Louis CK, utilizes himself brain-wise by hosting midday binges for all the other pets while their owners are away at work. It’s dog heaven until into his midst comes a stray, Duke (Eric Stonestreet), who makes it a dog’s breakfast. Their feud escalates to epic proportions before they both accidentally find themselves on the street, a pair of strays caught up in evil rabbit, Snowball’s (Kevin Hart), plan to wreak revenge on the unflushed, privileged pets in nice homes.
Read into it what you will – the 99 percent versus the 1 percent, #OscarSoWhite, or even Clinton v. Trump. Throw in furrow-browed butt sniffing and it’s art imitating life. “They’re actually doing a chemical reaction to meeting each other,” says petrendologist (someone who studies trends in pets) Charlotte Reed about the hilarious way strange dogs say hello. “It’s important to understand body language, a flip of the ear can mean something, the way a dog is postured, the way he positions his tail, all of these things mean something.”
Where a dog might bare its teeth and snarl before attacking, a cat will simply narrow its eyelids. But when it comes to reading dogs, cats haven’t a clue, nor do they care, and vice versa. In the end, it’s not so much a secret life that pets have, it’s that most owners are not attuned to the subtle ways they communicate.
“Cats make the most of whatever they’ve got. If they feel like playing they’ll find something to play with,” adds Stelow. But which is smarter? In the end, whatever you decide says more about you than the animal. “Some people think dogs are more intelligent because they’ve evolved with us and they can read our body language pretty darn well. And some people think cats are more intelligent because they can’t be bothered.”
The Secret Life of Pets is now playing in local cinemas.