RSS Feed

Review – Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Posted on


FILM REVIEW
HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE
. With Sam Neill, Julian Dennison, Rima Te Wiata, Rachel House, and Oscar Kightley. Written and directed by Taika Waititi. Rated PG-13 for thematic elements including violent content, and for some language. 101 minutes.

“Majestical” isn’t a real word, at least not according to thirteen-year-old Ricky Baker, the portly protagonist of writer-director Taika Waititi’s HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE, which is currently blowing into theatres like a cool, refreshing breeze in our overheated summer of bad vibes. Abandoned as a baby, Ricky’s been bouncing around juvenile facilities and foster homes, prone to stealing, swearing, spitting, and a litany of other offenses frequently, breathlessly indexed by his tyrannical Child Services officer, played with great gusto by Rachel House.

The fantastic young discovery Julian Dennison brings pathos to Ricky’s surly gracelessness, especially as he gets his first taste of unconditional love and acceptance at a farmhouse on the edge of the New Zealand bush, with the kindhearted, slightly kooky Bella (Rima Te Waita) and her monosyllabic husband, Hector. Hector’s called “Hec” for short, and Sam Neill’s gruff, minimalistic performance leaves no doubt he’d prefer everything short. The film is broken up into storybook chapters with onscreen titles, the first few quite movingly observing these three misfits as they gradually grow into a family.

But life is often never more cruel than when things finally seem to be working out, and an unexpected tragedy soon finds Ricky and “Uncle Hec” a whole heck of a ways out in the woods together. Hec suffers a busted ankle, leaving them to camp out for a couple of months while all sorts of wrong conclusions are leapt to by the authorities, particularly Ricky’s aforementioned dictatorial Child Services officer. Our mismatched duo rather accidentally wind up becoming famous fugitives, and “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” blossoms into a boisterous outdoor adventure, nodding to influences as disparate as “Up” and “The Blues Brothers” while maintaining a distinctly handcrafted, funky vibe all its own.

Based on Barry Crump’s book, “Wild Pork and Watercress,” Waititi’s film has the stylized exaggerations and emotional directness of the best children’s literature. Everything is just a tiny bit louder and more colorful than real life, but the feelings are straightforward and unadorned. Ricky and Uncle Hec stumble into plenty of wacky escapades that are at times gut-bustingly funny, with large-scaled supporting performances by actors made up to almost look like illustrations, and yet the film remains grounded in our main characters’ loneliness and their shared sense of loss. (The way we see Hec sketching a gaudy cat sweater provides a gag prop with unexpected resonance. There are a lot of moments like that.)

Cinematographer Lachlan Milne lavishes attention on the awe-inspiring New Zealand landscapes, but maybe could’ve cooled it a little because every once in a while it feels the story is being interrupted so we can look at postcards. He and Waititi do come up with some pretty nifty tricks, though, particularly a wintery montage sequence pulled off in a single 360-degree pan that immediately follows a great “McCabe & Mrs. Miller” reference I was the only person in the theatre laughing at.

Of course Sam Neill’s most famous role was also that of a child-hating crank bonding with plucky kids on a jungle adventure. But there are more differences here than just a lack of dinosaurs, as the tight-lipped, not-entirely-bright Uncle Hec warms up to Ricky Baker a bit more convincingly. (Ricky might be an obnoxious juvenile delinquent but he’s still nowhere near as annoying as those kids in “Jurassic Park.”)

Dennison has a hilarious way of swanning through scenes as though not quite entirely in control of his oversized body, his urban street-wear providing a secondary sight gag in the forest. As a man accustomed to living on his own in the wilderness, Neill doesn’t waste any movements and isn’t one to talk about his feelings, not matter how much Ricky prods him about “processing.”  Their eventual rapport is all the more affecting for being so hard-won.

Over the course of their journey these two also discover a beautiful, rare bird that was presumed to be extinct. The same description could apply to “Hunt for the Wilderpeople,” as I can’t recall the last time I saw a live-action adventure film for the whole family that wasn’t talking down to kids or trying to sell them plastic crap. It’s majestical.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 4 out of 5.Over the past seventeen years, Sean Burns’ reviews, interviews and essays have appeared in Philadelphia Weekly, The Improper Bostonian, Metro, The Boston Herald, Nashville Scene, The House Next Door, Time Out New York, EntertainmentTell, Philadelphia City Paper and RogerEbert.com. He stashes them all at Spliced Personality.

Review – Star Trek: Beyond


FILM REVIEW
STAR TREK: BEYONDWith Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, and Anton Yelchin. Written by Simon Pegg & Doug Jung. Directed by Justin Lin. Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence. 120 minutes.

Longtime “Star Trek” fans will remember that there used to be a rule of thumb about the movies: the “even ones” were the good ones. Think of “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” and “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.” Now with the reboots it looks like the rule will be look out for the “odd ones.”

The 2009 reboot had its problems, but was embraced by the fans because the new cast was so spot-on. Then came the 2013 “Star Trek: Into Darkness” which showed a cast getting more comfortable in the parts but made the mistake of being a remake of  “Wrath of Khan.” Now comes STAR TREK: BEYOND, and director J. J. Abrams has stepped back into a producing role, letting Justin Lin take over the helm. Lin is the man who did the impossible: stepping into the “Fast and Furious” series and injecting it not only with eye-popping action, but allowing a diverse cast to actually bring their characters to life.

He might have seemed an odd choice for “Star Trek,” but it turns out to to have been a good fit. The pacing is a lot faster–lots of short scenes with character moments salted in among the unrelenting action–but he’s helped by a script by Simon Pegg (who plays Scotty) and Doug Jung that feels like a real “Star Trek” episode. The character subplots play off nicely against the main storyline.

After a prologue in which a well-intentioned diplomatic effort by Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) goes wrong, we get to the main story. The Enterprise is sent on a rescue mission in uncharted territory, unaware that they are being lured into a trap set up by Krall (Idris Elba). He wants an alien artifact in the possession of the Enterprise and is willing to do whatever it takes to get it. The central conflict would have not been out of place in back in the days of late series creator Gene Roddenberry: should the Federation’s mission be one of military force or diplomatic efforts?

Combining special effects with a compelling plot and strong characters, this is easily the best of the new “Trek” series, where the actors show they’re ready to make these characters their own. John Cho, as Sulu, and the late Anton Yelchin, in his final turn as Chekov, make the most of still underwritten parts, but Zachary Quinto as Spock and Karl Urban as Dr. McCoy absolutely soar, playing off of each other as well as off of Pine. Zoe Saldana gets to kick some alien butt as Uhura and newcomer Sofia Boutella is a welcome addition as the complex alien spacefarer Jayiah. She would be good to keep on in future entries.

It’s clear that Paramount executives continue to remain clueless about “Star Trek’s” appeal, originally intending to open the film with no local press screenings. Let’s spell it out: “Star Trek” represents intelligent, character-driven and issue-oriented science fiction, and its fans will appreciate the smarts that went into “Star Trek: Beyond.” Since the franchise is now alive and kicking, they should treat the films as prestige releases, not just another entry in a franchise with little appeal except for nerds and geeks. Yes, nerds and geeks (including this reviewer) will have a great time. And anyone who appreciated a good action-packed adventure will too.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 4.5 out of 5.Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Review – Ice Age: Collision Course


FILM REVIEWICE AGE: COLLISION COURSEWith the voices of Ray Romano, Denis Leary, John Leguizamo, Wanda Sykes, Simon Pegg. Written by Michael J. Wilson and Michael Berg and Yoni Brenner. Directed by Mike Thurmeier, Galen T. Chu. Rated PG for mild rude humor and some action/peril. 94 minutes.

Like the proverbial bad penny, the mammals of the animated “Ice Age” series keep turning up because while the films are forgettable, they keep the children amused. In the latest installment ICE AGE: COLLISION COURSE, Skrat–the hapless squirrel forever losing his precious acorn–finds a space ship buried in the ice and finds himself establishing the solar system.

It’s not all that different from the last film (2012’s “Ice Age: Continental Drift”) where he was responsible for separating Earth’s continents. Naturally our heroes are in peril again and need to figure out what to do. For those coming in late, or with short memories, they are Manny the Mammoth (voiced by Ray Romano), Diego the saber-toothed tiger (Denis Leary), and Sid the sloth (John Leguizamo). Manny and Diego are accompanied by the mates they acquired in previous films, Ellie the mammoth (Queen Latifah) and Shira the tiger (Jennifer Lopez). Poor Sid is still single, but takes care of his irasicible Granny (Wanda Sykes).

Manny and Ellie’s daughter Peaches (Keke Palmer) is now grown up, and wants to marry Julian (Adam Devine), although Manny has his doubts. This is one of several subplots that keep things moving while a meteor–set in motion by Skrat–is headed towards Earth and threatening to wipe them out. This is an excuse for the return of Buck (Simon Pegg), the manic one-eyed weasel first introduced in “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs” (2009), who has a solution involving a volcano.

If none of this makes much sense, it’s okay. In spite of the characters using 21st century slang and the scatalogical “humor,” somehow this one rises slightly above previous offerings. Whether it’s Buck channelling Bugs Bunny with his own rendition of “Figaro” or Granny finding the fountain of youth inside a meteor, there’s an attempt at some wit and creativity that was lacking in previous installments. Perhaps most bizarre is a cameo by a character identified as Neil deBuck Weasel who “explains” some of the happenings in space. If the voice and look of the character seems familiar, it’s because they actually got Neil deGrasse Tyson–our great contemporary public educator on science–to voice the character.

Indeed, for the first time there’s enough humor for the adults to make it bearable enough to sit through with the kids. The will no doubt be enchanted by such repartee as two characters announcing they’re “reporting for duty” and then laughing because it sounds like “doody.” (Ask your five-year-old. This is sophisticated material for the toilet-trained set.)

In a year of some great American animation–with more to come–“Ice Age: Collission Course,” at best, serves as a palate cleanser. Given the low expectations for the series, that this actually shows signs of improvement demonstrates that anything is possible.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 2.5 out of 5.Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Review – Ghostbusters (Sean’s Take)

Posted on


FILM REVIEW
 – GHOSTBUSTERS
With Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Chris Hemsworth. Written by Katie Dippold & Paul Feig. Directed by Paul Feig. Rated PG-13 for supernatural action and some crude humor. 116 minutes.

“It’s always the sad, pale ones,” sighs Kristen Wiig upon sizing up the porcine, basement-dwelling geek responsible for unleashing an apocalyptic flurry of the undead in director Paul Feig’s embattled GHOSTBUSTERS reboot—a funny, goodhearted movie which under no circumstances should be this summer’s most controversial release. If you’re lucky enough not to spend much time on the internet then you’ve probably missed the past two years of incessant whining and misogynistic outbursts by man-babies–most pushing middle-age–for whom the very idea of ladies busting ghosts constitutes a hate crime worse than sketching dirty cartoons of their prophet, Slimer.

Really? Yes, bafflingly enough there’s a noisy cult of creeps out there that considers the silly old movie sacrosanct and somehow this newfangled, feminist desecration is “ruining their childhoods,” which makes me think adulthood probably ain’t going so well for these dudes, either. You’d figure I’d be a prime nostalgia target, having seen the original film in theatres when I was nine years old (pretty much the perfect age for it) but like everybody else in my class, I quickly moved on to stuff like “Stripes”, “The Blues Brothers” and especially “Animal House.” “Ghostbusters” was a kiddie-movie gateway drug for the Not Ready For Prime Time Players, then you got a little older and watched the ones that had boobies and swear words.

Not so, I have learned, for a hopefully small but extremely vocal minority. I’m told a lot of this has to do with a “Ghostbusters” cartoon I never bothered with, one that apparently took quite seriously the Aykroyd-Aspergery gobbledygook mythology that Bill Murray spent the first picture rolling his eyes at. Whatever the case, bustin’ makes these lonely fellas feel good, as does the recording of epic YouTube manifestos and online harassment, sexual or otherwise. When comedian Patton Oswalt tweeted that he’d enjoyed the new film, fervent fanboys responded with cartoons of his recently deceased wife as a ghost being busted. I can only rest in the presumably safe assumption that there’s no danger of these pathetic little shits reproducing.

Feig’s girl-power “Ghostbusters” was forged in a crucible of man-baby cyber-bullying and it wears a chip on its shoulder proudly. Wiig, Melissa McCarthy and the monstrously funny Kate McKinnon star as three scientists mocked and run out of the university system for their belief in the paranormal. But when New York City (quite unconvincingly portrayed by Boston and Australia) suffers an outbreak of ectoplasm, who you gonna call? Leslie Jones soon joins the team as an MTA worker who’s an expert on ancient NYC architecture, and Chris Hemsworth plays a himbo receptionist so dumb he thinks he hears through his eyes.

Just like Feig’s “Spy” and “The Heat”, both of which also starred McCarthy, “Ghostbusters” is a movie about female professionals constantly being undercut and underestimated by moronic male gloryhounds who usually end up taking credit for all their work. There are some terrific numbskulls and naysayers here, including Andy Garcia as a vain NYC hizzoner who loses it if you compare him to the mayor from “Jaws”, and Zach Woods as a terrified tour guide who won me over in the opening scene by describing “a face bidet and an anti-Irish security fence.”

McCarthy doesn’t play crass or cloddish this time, anchoring the gang with a genuine sweetness that’s rather beguiling. Besides, her usual lumbering loudmouth shtick would starve for oxygen next to Jones, who can bulldoze anybody in her path and on a big screen seems to loom even larger than Hemsworth. Wiig wisely sneaks in underneath the others, stammering silliness with a lulling, impeccably timed monotone. But the movie is owned outright by Kate McKinnon, conjuring up an oddball gearhead with a gallery of lusty leers and a tickled self-amusement that rivals Murray’s in the 1984 original. You’ll find yourself scanning the screen for McKinnon during the wide shots, where she’s always doing something not-quite-right and absolutely perfect.

What makes “Ghostbusters” a pleasure to watch is how much these women obviously enjoy working with one another, generously feeding each other straight lines and setups as opposed to other comics who too often compete for attention. Feig’s films can get a little messy with the improv, but I find they’re all redeemed by a spirit of community. Like the unexpectedly hilarious Jason Statham in “Spy, or Hemsworth here, everybody gets to be funny.

Alas, this is also a big-budget summer blockbuster, which means the third act of “Ghostbusters” must be dragged down into a boring CGI visual effects extravaganza that appears to have been edited with a meat cleaver, missing large chunks of crucial plot information perhaps best left on the cutting room floor. (One lengthy sequence even plays out beneath the closing credits. It looks expensive so I guess they didn’t want to waste it on the DVD because nobody buys those anymore.)

It’s ironic that all the cameos and callbacks to the original “Ghostbusters” are the gags that don’t land. (I wanted to say Bill Murray gives his unfunniest performance since “The Razor’s Edge” except I tried to watch “Rock The Kasbah” on Netflix the other night. Jesus.) Feig and his co-screenwriter Katie Dippold crafted a ready-made metaphor when the ladies are almost asphyxiated by a gigantic, inflatable Stay-Puft marshmallow man, suffocating under the weight of a legendary, inimitable punchline. You’ll wish they hadn’t bothered trying to provide fan service for a fanbase that had already decided to hate this movie before a frame was even shot.

And yeah, there were a few of those guys at my screening. One fat thirty-something lost his mind and started shouting obscenities at the screen when the gals used their proton packs to blast a bad-guy ghost in the balls. (Oh, the misandry.) Then there were a couple of bros circling the parking lot in a jeep afterwards, hollering “Ghostbusters sucked!” at people leaving the theater.

With everything going on in the world right now I almost envy their comical lack of perspective, getting so worked up because human beings with vaginas are starring in a remake of a movie you liked when you were a little kid. Of course, these dumb motherfuckers all paid for tickets to come see it tonight and yell, so maybe we should just feel sorry for the sad, pale ones.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 3 out of 5.Over the past seventeen years, Sean Burns’ reviews, interviews and essays have appeared in Philadelphia Weekly, The Improper Bostonian, Metro, The Boston Herald, Nashville Scene, The House Next Door, Time Out New York, EntertainmentTell, Philadelphia City Paper and RogerEbert.com. He stashes them all at Spliced Personality.

Review – Ghostbusters (Dan’s Take)


FILM REVIEW
GHOSTBUSTERS
With Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Chris Hemsworth. Written by Katie Dippold & Paul Feig. Directed by Paul Feig. Rated PG-13 for supernatural action and some crude humor. 116 minutes.

Why are we getting a GHOSTBUSTERS remake (or “reboot” if you prefer)? For no good reason except the studio owned the rights and they could do it. It beats coming up with something original, right?

The movie is a mess from start to finish, not counting the green slime. From the opening jokes that fall flat in quick succession to an incoherent third act that has so many loose threads that a musical production number gets dumped into the closing credits, it’s clear that the people in charge had no idea what they were doing. Putting director Paul Feig in charge, perpetrator of “Bridesmaids,” “The Heat,” and “Spy,” guarantees that the comedy will be heavy-handed and often tasteless.

For those just coming in who are unfamiliar with the 1984 original, New York is under increasing attacks by ghosts. Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) and Abby Yates (a relatively subdued Melissa McCarthy) are one-time friends who are reunited when they discover the ghosts are real. Abby has been working with zany inventor Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon). They are soon joined by subway worker Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones), who is attacked by a ghost in a subway tunnel. Where the original Ghostbusters were male, now they’re all female. Naturally the female receptionist of the first film is replaced by the vapid but buff Kevin (Chris Hemsworth).

While the new movie ups the ante on the special effects, there’s no getting around how inadequate Wiig and McCarthy are. The original boasted Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, and the late Harold Ramis. (Murray and Aykroyd join several other members of the original cast for cameos here.) Wiig and McCarthy strain for laughs, but they’re few and far between. The breakout here is breakout “SNL” star McKinnon, who needs co-stars who could keep up with her. (Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, perhaps?)

Which brings us to the third act. One of the demons has possessed Kevin, who freezes a batallion of police in a choreographed pose, which the film does nothing more with until the closing credits. Those paying attention to the details will note the movie marquees advertising films of the ’70s like “Taxi Driver” and “Willard,” while signs for Broadway shows are from the ’60s. There was obviously some plan for some sort of time warp plot with Wiig asking at one point the now out of context question “What year is this?”

This amply demonstrates the problem of the film. It was made not because they put a lot of work into telling an entertaining and well-thought out story. It was made because they could. This “Ghostbusters” proves, once again, that that’s not a good enough reason to remake a movie, but Hollywood never learns.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 1.5 out of 5.Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Review – The Infiltrator

 


FILM REVIEW
THE INFILTRATOR
. With Bryan Cranston, John Leguizamo, Benjamin Bratt, Olympia Dukakis, Diane Kruger. Written by Ellen Brown Furman. Directed by Brad Furman. Rated R for strong violence, language throughout, some sexual content and drug material. 127 minutes.

One of the great operations against an international conspiracy occurred in the 1980s when Federal agents, targeting Pablo Escobar and the Colombian drug cartel, hit them where it hurt by following the money, and the story of that is told pretty well in THE INFILTRATOR. Robert Mazur (Bryan Cranston) was key to that, going undercover to track their money laundering operation. While it didn’t directly take down Escobar, it put a major dent in his operation and did expose and eventually shut down BCCI, then the world’s seventh largest privately-held bank.

While the movie takes dramatic liberties with the story (the climactic scene, for example, didn’t occur the way it is presented), it is essentially true, focusing on two intertwined storylines. First, of course, is Operation C-Chase, the combined Federal effort against the cocaine smuggling and money laundering operation. We get a sense of just how large and involved the criminal conspiracy is, ranging from jungles in Colombia to executive suites in the U.S. and Europe.

Just as important–and just as complex–is the focus on the costs of going undercover. Mazur and his partner Emir Abreu (John Leguizamo) spent five years pretending to be financial fixers who could move money across international lines without drawing the attention of the U. S. government. In a sense, they were con men, earning the confidence of the drug dealers and bankers, all the while surreptiously recording them and amassing evidence.

At times, according to the film, it could be fun. Mazur gets to live large in order to impress others and work his way up the financial food chain. At times it could be dangerous, as these were men playing for keeps. The only “severance package” the drug cartel offered was a bullet to the head, and that’s if they chose to do it quickly. And it could get complicated, as Mazur–married in real ife (Juliet Aubrey plays his wife)–gets out of a situation with a hooker by announcing his engagement. Subsequently he has to produce his fiancée (Diane Kruger), played by another agent who turns out to have no undercover experience.

It is their relationship with Roberto Alcaino (Benjamin Bratt) and his wife where we see the psychological toll such operations take on undercover agents. The two couples become friendly and enjoy time together, with the two agents knowing that they are lying to the Alcainos, eventually betraying their trust. It’s no wonder that Mazur is asked at one point if he needs to see the staff psychologist.

The movie works as both the story of an anti-crime operation and a drama about one of the people who took great risks to get the job done. Bryan Cranston has become a character actor who can command attention in leading roles, and he shows why here, moving effortlessly between lighter moments and those of intense drama. The rest of the cast is solid, with Bratt sympathetic as Escobar’s chief money man in the U.S., and Olympia Dukakis stealing her couple of scenes as Mazur’s cagy aunt. Aubrey, Kruger, and Amy Adams (as Mazur’s prickly boss), offer a strong lineup of female characters that is surprising in a film like this.

Smart and action-packed, “The Infiltrator” is a worthy addition to the summer lineup.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 3.5 out of 5.Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Review – The Secret Life of Pets


FILM REVIEW
THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS
With the voices of Louis C.K., Eric Stonestreet, Kevin Hart, Jenny Slate, Albert Brooks. Written by Cinco Paul & Ken Daurio and Brian Lynch. Directed by Yarrow Cheney, Chris Renaud. Rated PG for action and some rude humor. 90 minutes.

American animation spent a long period of time where there was Disney and then there was everyone else. The non-Disney material was few and far between. Now we seem to have returned to the Golden Age where multiple studios–each with a distinct style–is turning out quality work. With Disney, there’s the Pixar and non-Pixar films. DreamWorks Animation has done some outstanding films. BlueSky (part of 20th Century Fox) seems happy to churn out the second rate but profitable “Ice Age” films.

And there’s Illumination. On the basis of the “Despicable Me” movies (including “The Minions”) and “The Lorax,” it’s clear that they’ve learned from the competition as to what works today: strong characters, a sturdy plot, animation technique. Then they add to this dollops of their own surreal and quirky humor and they’ve got a winning formula which is fully on display in THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS.

The story is about how city pet Max (voice of Louis C. K.) finds his life disrupted when his owner brings home a stray. Duke (Eric Stonestreet) is a behemoth of a dog, and not inclined to share with Max. This leads to the main adventure where they get lost and end up with an underground group of abandoned animals–headed by a deceptively cute bunny named Snowball (Kevin Hart)–who have declared war on humanity. Meanwhile, the other neighborhood pets have broken loose to find and rescue their friend Max.

Part of the humor comes from knowing what real cats and dogs are like, so that the jokes connect. When we see a cat hitting the on button from atop the clothes dryer where it’s sleeping, any cat owner–or person owned by a cat–will nod in recognition of their pets seeking just the right perch. The comedy goes into another world when a hungry Max and Duke sneak into a sausage factory and are greeted by dancing sausages eager to be eaten.

The characters are not merely setups for jokes, but have their own stories, and some of them are touching. A falcon (Albert Brooks) has to learn not to treat the neighborhood pets as potential prey. An elderly dog (Dana Carvey) who needs wheels to get around turns out to have some life in him yet. And Gidget (Jenny Slate) is not about to give up on her boyfriend Max, even if he doesn’t know he’s her boyfriend.

In short, the Illumination style doesn’t lay on the pathos quite as thickly as Pixar, but succeeds in making you care for the characters. When we get to see each of the animal characters reunited with his or her human, we’re reminded why we love our pets. Although, as in the “Toy Story” films, the main premise is that the characters have complicated lives when the humans aren’t around, what we really learn from “The Secret Life of Pets” is that they need us as much as we need them.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 4 out of 5.Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is “Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide.” He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,115 other followers