The Secret Life of Pets starring the voices of Louis C.K., Eric Stonestreet, Kevin Hart, Jenny Slate, Ellie Kemper, Albert Brooks, Lake Bell, Dana Carvey, Hannibal Buress, Bobby Moynihan, Chris Renaud, Steve Coogan, Michael Beattie, and Sandra Echeverria
Universal Entertainment/Illumination Pictures, 2016. Rated PG
Synopsis: Max has the perfect life with his owner Emily until one day she brings home Duke, a dog from the pound. When the two dogs get lost in the city and are on the run from animal control and a homicidal former magician’s rabbit named Snowball and his army of abandoned pets, they are going to have to rely on each other if they are going to get home to their owner.
Having grown up with pets (dogs, to be specific), I won’t deny there were times when I wondered what they did while I was at school or at work. I don’t think my dogs did anything nearly as epic as getting recruited by a gang of former pets dwelling in the city sewers or breaking into a sausage factory to find food. But that isn’t to say that pets don’t have adventures while their humans are away. What I liked about the film is the realistic personalities of each animal, especially the dogs. I also loved the blasé attitude of Chole the cat, who unwittingly gets dragged along on a mission to rescue Max and Duke. I was thoroughly amused by the fact that in almost every scene when she is in an apartment, she is sitting in some container – a box, a bowl, etc. I also appreciated the initial rivalry between Max and Duke, the former of whom feels threatened when Emily first brings home Duke. Max is so used to being the only dog in the house and the notion of having to share his space, his toys, and his human is absurd. But what Max learns over the course of his adventures with Duke is that the larger dog has also had his share of difficulties that have left an impression on him. The compassion the dogs eventually develop for each other and for Snowball and his gang leave the viewer with a warm fuzzy feeling that will have them wanting to give their own pets some love. It’s a fun family film that will delight pet lovers of all ages.
Sing starring the voices of Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Seth MacFarlane, Scarlett Johansson, John C. Reilly, Taron Egerton, Tori Kelly, Jennifer Saunders, Jennifer Hudson, Nick Kroll, Beck Bennett, Jay Pharoah, and Nick Offerman
Illumination Entertainment, 2016. Rated PG.
Synopsis: Buster Moon’s greatest ambition has been to run a theater ever since he was a young Koala. So when the Moon Theater’s ledger goes deeply in the red, Buster decides to host a singing competition in an effort to save the institution he loves. Little does he realize that the contestants will not only change his life, but their own lives a well.
While the film centers around humanoid animals in a fictional city, the characters each touch on the different ways that one can go about pursuing their dreams. Ash, a porcupine, was just dumped by her boyfriend because he didn’t like that she wanted to sing lead and write her own songs. Meena is a shy elephant with a beautiful voice and a severe case of stage fright. Rosita is a stay-at-home pig mom who yerns to do something beyond taking care of her 25 offspring. Johnny isa gorilla with a natural born talent for singing that is being talked into helping out with the shady doings of his father’s gang. Mouse Mike is a street musician with a big ego in search of some recognition for his hard honed talents. Their ability to keep going in spite of the many setbacks the group endures while prepping for the big performance shows the audience that our ability to dream big dreams and fulfill them is only limited by our own discouragement. We find ourselves cheering for each of these contestants, hoping that they are able to break out of their shells and show the city and the rest of the world what they are made of. The film is largely formulaic in terms of its plotline, but the soundtrack and the eclectic nature of the cast make it worth the hour and forty-five minute runtime. Like with most family films, there is a broad range to the humor that will appeal to viewers of all ages. Younger viewers will be espeically amused by Buster using his own body as a sponge to wash cars in one particular sequence while older viewers will connect with Donnie’s fear of his grandmother Nana, a famous opera singer back in the Moon Theater’s heyday. Overall, a cute and inspiring film about following your dreams and unleashing your inner animal.
The Oodlethunks: Welcome to Camp Woggle by Adele Griffin, illustrations by Mike Wu
Scholastic Press, 2017. 978-0545732918
Synopsis: School is out for the summer and Oona and her brother Bonk can’t wait to help their dad over the vacation. But now that the kids aren’t in school, Stacy, their pet stegasaurus, is bored. So Oona and Bonk decide to create a summer camp for their pet and the pets of the other kids – Camp Woogle!
Why I picked it up: I loved the idea of having a dinosaur for a pet.
Why I finished it: Clearly I have a thing where I start series not on the first book, which I have referenced before, but that didn’t keep me from enjoying this prehistoric adventure. Oona and Bonk are clever, entrepreneurial young cave people with a can-do spirit and big hearts. They see that Stacy is driving their mom crazy and tearing up the cave, and so the two put their heads together in order to solve the problem of keeping their pet entertained and keeping themselves occupied during the school break. Oona wants to be able to include all of the community’s pets, but runs into a problem when she realizes that one of the newcomers has a pet T-Rex that could potentially eat the other campers. Her ability to create and enforce rules as well as compromise on an effective punishment for rule-breakers shows younger readers that they themselves are capable of creating solutions to everyday dilemmas. Oona and Bonk show a positive attitude in the face of some adverse situations that at first seem discouraging, but in the end turn out okay. Wu’s art reminds me a lot of the animation for the film Inside Out, which seems appropriate since he has done work for Disney. It has a realistic yet whimsical quality that adds to the fun of the story, helping Oona, Bonk, and rest of their friends and family come alive. I’d recommend this book for those of you like me that love strong female characters and for kids who have dreamed of having a dinosaur for a pet – it’s a enjoyable and inspirational story about how we face challenges and overcome setbacks.
Other related materials: Oona Finds an Egg (Oodlethunks, Book 1) by Adele Griffin, illustrations by Mike Wu; Steg-O-Normous (Oodlethunks, Book 2) by Adele Griffin, illustrations by Mike Wu; The Dino Files books by Stacy McAnulty, illustrated by Mike Boldt; Dino-Mike series by Franco; Dinosaur Boy by Cory Putman Oakes; Dino Detectives books by Anita Yasuda, illustrated by Steve Harpster; Haggis and Tank Unleashed series by Jessica Young, illustrated by James Burks; Mad Scientist Academy: The Dinosaur Disaster by Matthew McElligott; Who Would Win? Tyrannosaurus Rex vs. Veliciraptor by Jerry Pallotta, illustrated by Rob Bolster