Set in a Manhattan hi-rise, “The Secret Life of Pets,” exposes what our pets do when we walk out the door for work or school. Chubby kitty Chloe (Lake Bell) swats aside her food bowl in favor of what’s in the fridge. Mel the pug (Bobby Moynihan) sits in a chair by the window barking at squirrels. Buddy, a dachshund, (Hannibal Buress) turns on a mixer and uses it to massage his back. Cute terrier Max (Louis C.K.), on the other hand, waits eagerly by the door for his owner, Katie (Ellie Kemper) to come back. She throws him for a loop one fine day when she brings home a brother for Max in the form of Duke (Eric Stonestreet), a huge, hairy mutt about to invade Max’s space in Katie’s heart.
This here's my space
The rivalry between Max and Duke parallels that of Woody and Buzz in the first “Toy Story” movie. Duke’s presence threatens Max so much so that Max resorts to trashing Katie’s apartment in an effort to make Duke look bad. Max’s selfishness results in both he and Duke ending up on the street where they encounter the “Flushed Pets,” unsavory characters who have been discarded by their owners. They’re led by Snowball (Kevin Hart), a deceptively cute little bunny with some serious street smarts. After an initiation gone bad, Snowball and his cronies chase after Max and Duke. In order to survive and get back home to Katie, Max and Duke have to learn to work together.
“The Secret Life of Pets” is filled with gags and hilarious moments that will get the kids laughing their heads off but at its heart the movie is a story about opening our hearts to new friends. When Gidget (Jenny Slate), a puffball Pomeranian who lives across the way, notices that Max is missing, she rallies the troops by reminding them of the good things Max has done for each of them. Yet, when Duke invades Max’s space, his kindness goes MIA for a while. Only by getting to know Duke and his story, does Max come to realize what they have in common.
Getting to know you
As people in the world, we are always coming in contact with strangers. Whether it is through being introduced to someone at a party or welcoming a new student to a school, we get first impressions of people and make assumptions about them based on these impressions. When a first impression is negative or threatening, as in Max’s case with Duke, we may be tempted to act unkindly toward that person or cause them lose face in front of others.
Our Christian faith, on the other hand, calls us to be welcoming, kind, generous, and loving towards all those we meet. In getting to know people over a period of time, we might just find that they are not so different from us. Maybe the person we don’t like when we first meet him or her will end up being a good friend. In order to make this journey, however, we need to put our selfishness aside and open our hearts to that person.
Learning Compassion and Kindness
Christian parents can use “The Secret Life of Pets” to talk to the kids about how we want to treat others, especially those we don’t like or even those who are hard to like because of the way they act. We adults know that sometimes kids can be mean to one another. Max and Duke are like kids bullying one another. Ask your kids to think about what makes Max change his mind about Duke. This can provide a great lead-in to a conversation about empathy, compassion, and kindness.