2016 Certificate: pg

Synopsis

In his Manhattan apartment block, terrier Max (voiced by Louis C.K.) is used to being top dog... until his kind-hearted owner brings home the lumbering mongrel Duke (Modern Family's Eric Stonestreet) from the pound. But when their rivalry leaves them adrift in the big, bad city, the mismatched mutts must pull together to escape the clutches of both animal control and an underground army of abandoned pets led by a barmy bunny called Snowball (Kevin Hart). Luckily, they also have plenty of other four-legged friends to rely on. Giddily enjoyable fun from the director of Despicable Me.

Directors

  • Chris Renaud

  • Yarrow Cheney

Cast

  • Louis C.K.

  • Eric Stonestreet

  • Kevin Hart

  • Ellie Kemper

  • Lake Bell

  • Jenny Slate

  • Steve Coogan

  • Dana Carvey

Review

While making no attempt to reinvent the (hamster's) wheel, there's no shortage of zip or yap to this furry buddy caper from the people who brought you the Minions.

Indeed, the main event is preceded - in cinemas at least - by a Minions short to set the ticklish mood.

The set-up is familiar: domestic favourite is presented with a challenger to his owner's affections, goes astray with the usurper in the outside world, then develops a mutual bond while his trusty old pals form a rescue party. No need to toy with a good story.

Louis CK voices Max, the devoted mutt whose nose is put out of joint by the arrival of shaggy pound dog Duke (Stonestreet). Their antagonism plunges them into the depths of New York, where they run into a gang of alley cats (led by ugly Cockney-puss Steve Coogan) before falling foul of animal control.

That's when the fun really starts as they are saved from the pound by the carrot-munching militant Snowball, a former magician's rabbit who leads a collective of similarly rejected animals called the Flushed Pets.

Voiced by Kevin Hart, Snowball is a scene-stealing riot, a bonkers furball of rage who is determined to lead his anti-human league to glory.

There are other twists on the stereotypes - such as the poodle with a penchant for death metal - but most of the laughs come from cats being greedy and aloof and dogs being loyal to a fault.

Clearly written to put younger viewers first, the script certainly won't win any awards for sophistication (sample dialogue: "What's that smell?" "It's poo-poo with a dash of kaka."). But its heart is in the right place and the animation has energy to burn.

Although it might not be of Pixar's pedigree, it's straining at the leash to be liked. Take it home.

Elliott Noble