Australian Council on Children and the Media

Secret life of pets

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Short takes

Not recommended under 8: parental guidance recommended 8-10, due to violence and scary scenes

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This topic contains:

  • overall comments and recommendations
  • details of classification and consumer advice lines for Secret life of pets
  • a review of Secret life of pets completed by the Australian Council on Children and the Media (ACCM) on 18 August 2016.

Overall comments and recommendations

Children under 8 Not recommended due to violence and scary scenes
Children 8 to 10 Parental guidance recommended due to violence and scary scenes
Children 10 and over OK for this age group

About the movie

This section contains details about the movie, including its classification by the Australian Government Classification Board and the associated consumer advice lines.

Name of movie: Secret life of pets
Classification: G
Consumer advice lines: Very mild sense of threat and some crude humour
Length 91 minutes

ACCM review

This review of the movie contains the following information:

A synopsis of the story

The Secret Life of Pets tells the story of what pets do after their owners leave for work for the day. It seems they spend the day meeting with their friends, holding heavy rock parties, raiding the fridge and watching television. The main character is Max (voice of Louis C.K.), a loveable friendly dog whose happy life with his owner Katie (Ellie Kemper) is turned upside down when she brings home a ‘brother’ for him, another stray dog called Duke (Eric Stonestreet). Duke is a huge dog who threatens Max’s comfortable life. Max therefore decides to trash the apartment putting the blame on Duke and ultimately getting rid of him.

In the meantime however, the two take themselves for a walk and end up in a lot of trouble. They get ambushed by a gang of scrawny cats, ‘arrested’ by the dog catchers, set free by Snowball, an angry rabbit, and end up in the underworld of lost and unwanted pets. It soon becomes obvious that Max and Duke don’t belong in this group of angry animals whose aim is the destruction of humans and they have to escape. The chase is on for Max and Duke to find their way home and on the way learn some valuable lessons.

Themesinfo

Children and adolescents may react adversely at different ages to themes of crime, suicide, drug and alcohol dependence, death, serious illness, family breakdown, death or separation from a parent, animal distress or cruelty to animals, children as victims, natural disasters and racism. Occasionally reviews may also signal themes that some parents may simply wish to know about.

Sibling rivalry; blended families; animals in danger

Use of violenceinfo

Research shows that children are at risk of learning that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution when violence is glamourised, performed by an attractive hero, successful, has few real life consequences, is set in a comic context and / or is mostly perpetrated by male characters with female victims, or by one race against another.

Repeated exposure to violent content can reinforce the message that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution. Repeated exposure also increases the risks that children will become desensitised to the use of violence in real life or develop an exaggerated view about the prevalence and likelihood of violence in their own world.

There is a lot of slapstick violence in this movie including:

  • Characters are continually crashing into each other or objects, falling down or being tossed in the air.
  • Animals drive vehicles that career all over the road, crash into other vehicles and cause a bus to go over a bridge, where it hangs in suspension for quite some time before falling into a river.

More serious violence includes:

  • Duke sits on Max, pushing him out of his bed. They get into a fight with Duke grabbing Max by his lead and pulling him along the street, making him crash into cars and end up in a rubbish bin.
  • A gang of stray cats surround Duke and Max and go on the attack.
  • A gang of dogs attack the dog collector’s van and the driver.
  • Snowball stamps on one of the snakes to gain entrance to the underworld.
  • Max and Duke have to pretend to be ‘owner killers’ to gain acceptance.
  • Gidget (a Chihuahua who’s in love with Max) jumps on a cat and repeatedly hits him until he tells her where Max is.
  • A huge python tries to bite Max but is crushed by falling bricks. All the underworld animals then attack Max and Duke chasing them through the sewers.
  • A fight breaks out between Gidget and her friends and the underworld gang.

Material that may scare or disturb children

Under fiveinfo

Children under five are most likely to be frightened by scary visual images, such as monsters, physical transformations.

In addition to the above-mentioned violent scenes, there are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children under the age of five, including the following:

  • Duke is a very large dog who growls aggressively at Max.
  • The gang of cats are very aggressive, scrawny looking, and quite scary.
  • Lots of the animals from the underworld are very scary and angry - including alligators, snakes and other creatures.
  • Max and Duke are locked in a cage in the dog collector’s van along with a scary dog. It is a bulldog who has a studded collar around his neck, studded belts around his body and a muzzle over his mouth. He bangs his head continuously against the cage.
  • Snowball is a particularly nasty rabbit. He looks cute to start with, but when picked up by the dog collector, he turns into a nasty vicious creature, biting the man on the face.
  • Tiberius is a hawk who is kept tied up in a cage. He is released by Gidget and then tries to eat her.
  • Snowball leads Duke and Max into the underworld sewers which are full of lost and unwanted pets. Snakes with glowing red eyes guard the entrance and hang down preventing entrance until a password is given.
  • Many of the animals have sad tales – Snowball was abandoned by his owners and a pig was used as practice for a tattoo artist.
  • A huge python opens its mouth really wide revealing razor sharp fangs.

Aged five to eightinfo

Children aged five to eight will also be frightened by scary visual images and will also be disturbed by depictions of the death of a parent, a child abandoned or separated from parents, children or animals being hurt or threatened and / or natural disasters.

In addition to the above-mentioned violent scenes and scary visual images, there are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children aged five to eight, including the following:

  • Max and Duke are picked up a couple of times by dog collectors, one of whom is a large, scary looking man who puts a noose around Max’s neck and scoops him up.
  • In the underworld Max and Duke have to make up a story about how they killed their owners. Snowball and the gang delight in hearing the tale and want to know all the gory details.
  • The initiation ceremony into the underworld involves being bitten by a huge python.
  • Max and Duke get sucked into a vortex in the sewer and are spat out into a river.
  • Duke goes back to find his original owner and finds out he has died.
  • Duke is trapped in a van, which falls into the river. Max goes to the rescue and nearly drowns trying to save him

Aged eight to thirteeninfo

Children aged eight to thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic threats and dangers, violence or threat of violence and / or stories in which children are hurt or threatened.

Younger children in this age group could also be disturbed by some of the above-mentioned scenes.

Over thirteeninfo

Children over the age of thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic physical harm or threats, molestation or sexual assault and / or threats from aliens or the occult.

Nothing of concern

Product placement

The following products are displayed or used in this movie:

  • YouTube

Sexual references

There are some sexual references in this movie, including:

  • Gidget is in love with Max and constantly refers to him as the good-looking dog. She also watches romantic soapies on television.

Nudity and sexual activity

Nothing of concern

Use of substances

There is some use of substances in this movie, including:

  • Max and Duke appear to get ‘high’ on a feast of sausages.

Coarse language

There is a lot of name-calling that children may imitate, such as:

  • stupid
  • lazy weirdo
  • shut up
  • dummies
  • idiot

In a nutshell

The secret life of pets is a comic adventure story about the life of pets when their owners aren’t around. The film is quite fast-paced and original, and does have some good underlying messages, but it is full of violence. It is also quite scary for younger children and therefore is more suited to older viewers with parental guidance recommended for eight to ten year olds.

The main messages from this movie are that:

  • Changes are often difficult at first, but can bring many rewards
  • We should try to understand others before rejecting them

Values in this movie that parents may wish to reinforce with their children include:

  • determination
  • the importance of friendship and co-operation
  • loyalty
  • being open to new things and ideas.

This movie could also give parents the opportunity to discuss with their children attitudes and behaviours, and their real-life consequences, such as:

  • Are there other ways to get results rather than meeting violence with violence?
  • Does revenge serve any purpose other than to make the avenger feel better?

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