When first teasers for this animated feature appeared, I chuckled and thought, “Oh, it’s Toy Story but with animals.” And it turns out I was wrong: It’s actually all of the Toy Story movies, but with animals. In a New York City apartment, a lovable mutt named Max (Louis C.K.) has a special relationship with his owner, Katie (Ellie Kemper). But what happens when she gets another dog, Duke (Eric Stonestreet), and a rivalry develops? Before you can sing “You’ve Got a Man’s Best Friend in Me,” the two pooches are loose in the city, forced to work together to get back home. Then there’s the group of pet friends who head out together to rescue Max and Duke, and even a montage flashback in which Duke wistfully remembers a previous owner. The Despicable Me team of director Chris Renaud and writers Ken Daurio & Cinco Paul keep the action moving, and there are plenty of individually amusing jokes based on the domesticated critters’ when-nobody’s-watching behavior. The emotional center, however, is so entirely second-hand that there’s no reason to care—except maybe to wonder if Pixar is readying a lawsuit.
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