Pets playful but predictable

In the animated feature The Secret Life of Pets, the visual effects are so dazzling and imaginative (whether in 2-D or 3-D), that they almost – but not quite – overcome a storyline that is not particularly original and not particularly funny. There are inspired moments, to be sure, and the film is hardly a chore to sit through, but its greatest inspiration is in its effects and not its narrative.

Louis C.K. provides the voice for our protagonist pooch, Max, who is none too thrilled when owner Katie (voiced by Ellie Kemper) brings him another dog, Duke (voiced by Eric Stonestreet). Their enmity boils over during a walk in Central Park, in which they get loose and find themselves lost on the streets of New York.

Max and Duke’s neighbors band together to find them, as does a ragtag bunch of discarded animals that live in the sewers and called themselves “the Flushed Pets.” Their ambition is the overthrow of the human race, as is repeatedly and loudly proclaimed by their leader, a rabbit revolutionary called Snowball. Kevin Hart, the hardest-working man in show business, cuts loose as the fluffy antagonist and brings a lot of energy to the film.

Others doing voice-over duty are Jenny Slate, Steve Coogan, Dana Carvey, Lake Bell, Hannibal Buress and Albert Brooks (fresh from Finding Dory), adopting a “Noo Yawk” accent as Tiberius, a redtailed hawk with a “killer instinct.”

The Secret Life of Pets is preceded by the short Mower Minions, which showcases the deliriously delightful yellow beings made popular in Despicable Me (2010) and is almost worth the price of admission by itself. Truly, there are bigger laughs in the short than in the feature that follows. !