What is life like for our pets while we’re away? That’s the question at the heart of The Secret Life of Pets and one that’s answered over the course of roughly ninety minutes of cute, frenetic, and mostly amusing action. With strong voice-work on the part of the actors behind each creature—especially Kevin Hart’s scene stealing, delightfully evil bunny, Snowball—and constant movement between the various groups of animals, the film’s sure to entertain the kids and grandkids who are clearly its intended audience. And while there’s not as much in this movie for the adults that will inevitably accompany those children as in many recent animated offerings, like Finding Dory and Zootopia, it remains a mostly enjoyable way to spend part of your day (and the Minions short that precedes it is almost worth the price of admission by itself).
The film opens with Max, a lovable terrier-mix, speeding through New York with his owner, Katie. The two have quite the life together and Max’s only complaint is that Katie inexplicably leaves each morning despite his best efforts to keep her in the apartment—going to work is a rather incomprehensible concept for him. Their perfect life is interrupted, however, when one evening she brings home Duke, a giant, hairy, and slobbery rescue from the local animal shelter who is no more keen on Max than the terrier is of his new “brother.” The competition between them eventually culminates with both dogs lost in the city, hunted by animal control, a people-hating group of creature castoffs called the “flushed pets”—memorably led by Hart’s Snowball—and Max’s friends, who set off to rescue him upon discovering that he’s gone.
That basic plot of a new intruder wreaking havoc on the main character’s seemingly perfect life before the two ultimately become friends isn’t novel—in many ways, this film is essentially Toy Story with pets—but it forms an adequate foundation for the series of wacky, fast-paced scenes that make the film work. Consequently, the lack of a truly original story is easy to overlook because it’s not the movie’s primary appeal. As Christians, perhaps we could benefit from a similar lesson.
Too often we forget what it is about our faith that truly appeals to the lost. Our culture doesn’t need more programs, better music, or watered-down theology. What will ultimately draw people to Christ is Christ, and if our churches, worship, and beliefs don’t effectively and intentionally point people to him, they aren’t doing much lasting good for the kingdom or those we are trying to reach.
Throughout the Gospels, we find crowds following Jesus for no other reason than that they could sense something in him—in the way he taught, in the way he treated people, and in the way he carried himself—that they found appealing. As a result, they stalked him across lakes and mountains, searched for him in remote regions far from their homes, and risked upsetting the religious balance of their day in order to just be near him.
That was the appeal of Christ’s presence then and that same appeal should continue on through us today. As Christians, we are called to be the living embodiment of Jesus’ presence to the world around us (Matthew 28:18–20). That’s what our name—literally “little Christs”—means. So let’s remember that it’s only by living up to that name that we will truly draw people to the Lord and make the kind of difference God calls us to make in the world around us. After all, that’s what our culture and his kingdom need from us today.