The Secret Life of Pets is about what pets do when their owners leave for work for the day: they spend the day meeting their friends, having heavy rock parties, raiding the fridge and watching television.
The main character is Max (voice of Louis C.K.). He’s a loveable, friendly dog whose happy life with his owner, Katie (Ellie Kemper), is turned upside down when she brings home Duke (Eric Stonestreet) as a ‘brother’ for Max. Duke is a huge dog who threatens Max’s comfortable life. Max decides to trash Katie’s apartment and blame Duke, so that Katie will get rid of Duke.
Before Max can put his plan into action, he and Duke go for a walk and end up in a lot of trouble. They get ambushed by a gang of scrawny cats, ‘arrested’ by the dog catchers and set free by an angry rabbit called Snowball. They end up in an underworld of lost and unwanted pets who want to destroy humans. Max and Duke must escape, find their way home and learn some valuable lessons on the way.
Sibling rivalry; blended families; animals in danger
The Secret Life of Pets has a lot of slapstick violence. For example:
- Characters are continually crashing into each other or objects, falling down or being tossed in the air.
- Animals drive vehicles that go all over the road and crash into other vehicles. One time the animals make a bus go over a bridge, where it hangs for some time before falling into a river.
The Secret Life of Pets also has more serious violence. For example:
- Duke sits on Max, pushing him out of his bed. They get into a fight. Duke grabs Max by his lead and pulls him along the street. Max crashes into cars and ends up in a rubbish bin.
- Some stray cats surround Duke and Max and attack them.
- Some dogs attack the dog collector’s van and its driver.
- Snowball stamps on a snake to gain entrance to the underworld.
- Max and Duke have to pretend to be ‘owner killers’ to be accepted into the underworld.
- Gidget (a Chihuahua who’s in love with Max) jumps on a cat and repeatedly hits him until he tells her where Max is.
- A huge python tries to bite Max but is crushed by falling bricks. All the underworld animals then attack Max and Duke and chase them through the sewers.
- A fight breaks out between Gidget and her friends and the underworld gang.
Content that may disturb children
In addition to the violent scenes mentioned above, The Secret Life of Pets has some scenes that could scare or disturb children under five years. For example:
- Duke is a very large dog, who growls aggressively at Max.
- The cats are very aggressive, scrawny looking and scary.
- Lots of the animals from the underworld are very scary and angry. These animals include alligators, snakes and other creatures.
- Max and Duke are locked in a cage in the dog collector’s van along with a scary bulldog. The bulldog has a studded collar around his neck, studded belts around his body and a muzzle over his mouth. He bangs his head continuously against the cage.
- Snowball is a particularly nasty rabbit. He looks cute to start with, but when the dog collector picks him up, he turns into a nasty, vicious creature. He bites the man on the face.
- Tiberius the hawk is kept tied up in a cage. Gidget releases him, and then he tries to eat her.
- Snowball leads Duke and Max into the underworld sewers, which are full of lost and unwanted pets. Snakes with glowing red eyes guard the entrance so no-one can go in without giving a password.
- Many of the animals have sad tales. For example, Snowball was abandoned by his owners, and a pig was used as practice for a tattoo artist.
- A huge python opens its mouth very wide to reveal razor-sharp fangs.
In addition to the violent scenes and scary visual images mentioned above, The Secret Life of Pets has some scenes that could scare or disturb children in this age group. For example:
- Dog collectors pick up Max and Duke a couple of times. One of the dog collectors is a large, scary man who puts a noose around Max’s neck and scoops him up.
- In the underworld Max and Duke have to make up a story about how they killed their owners. Snowball and the gang delight in hearing the tale and want to know all the gory details.
- The underworld initiation ceremony involves being bitten by a huge python.
- Max and Duke get sucked into a vortex in the sewer and are spat out into a river.
- Duke goes back to find his original owner and finds out he has died.
Duke is trapped in a van, which falls into the river. Max goes to the rescue and nearly drowns trying to save Duke.
Younger children in this age group could also be disturbed by some of the scenes mentioned above.
Nothing of concern
The Secret Life of Pets has some sexual references. For example, Gidget is in love with Max and constantly refers to him as the good-looking dog. She also watches romantic soapies on television.
Alcohol, drugs and other substances
The Secret Life of Pets shows some use of substances, including when Max and Duke seem to get ‘high’ on a feast of sausages.
Nudity and sexual activity
None of concern
The following products are displayed or used in The Secret Life of Pets: YouTube.
The Secret Life of Pets has a lot of name-calling that children might copy.
Ideas to discuss with your children
The Secret Life of Pets is a comic adventure story about the life of pets when their owners aren’t around.
The movie is fast paced and original and does have some good underlying messages, but it is also full of violence and quite scary for younger children. Therefore it’s more suited to older viewers, and we recommend parental guidance for children aged 8-10 years.
These are the main messages from this movie:
- Change is often difficult at first but can bring many rewards.
- We should try to understand others rather than rejecting them.
Values in this movie that you could reinforce with your children include determination, the friendship, cooperation, loyalty and openness to new things and ideas.
This movie could also give you the chance to talk with your children about real-life issues like these:
- Can you get what you want without meeting violence with violence?
- Does revenge serve any purpose other than to make the avenger feel better?