If you’re a pet owner, have you ever wondered what would it be like to understand your animal companion’s barks, purrs or chirps? Well, thanks to the magic of animation and voice acting, the critters in Illumination Entertainment’s new movie perfectly intelligible! Our favourite house pets in The Secret Life Of Pets 2 get up to some big adventures to boot in this sequel to the 2016 film.

Max (Patton Oswalt) the terrier goes on a family trip to the countryside. His not-so-secret admirer Gidget (Jenny Slate) the Pomeranian masquerades as a cat. Snowball (Kevin Hart) the rabbit attempts to free a white tiger from a circus.

Onscreen talking animals, especially those of the domestic kind, are as old as Mister Ed. And behind every great talking animal is a great human voice actor. Here are some of our famous favourites:


Billy Joel as Dodger in Oliver And Company (1988)

The Secret Life of Pets wasn’t the first animated film about dogs running lose in New York City and featuring a white-and-brown terrier mix. That honour goes to Disney’s 1988 musical Oliver And Company.

In this adaptation of Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist, the eponymous orphan is a stray kitten (Joey Lawrence) seeking a home and family. He joins a gang of pick-pocketing street dogs owned by hobo Fagin (Dom DeLuise). The furry leader of Fagin’s crew is Dodger, the aforementioned terrier mongrel who claims that he is “New York’s coolest quadruped” in his introductory number “Why Should I Worry”. You can watch him teach Oliver some “street savoir faire” and get a tour of 80s-era Manhattan in the clip above.

If you think that Dodger has great pipes, that’s because he’s voiced by “Piano Man” pop singer Billy Joel. (The same guy who gave us hits like “Uptown Girl” and “We Didn’t Start the Fire”.) The Bronx-born pop singer auditioned for the role by telephone after being given dialogue. Joel did the role for his then-two-year-old daughter Alexa Ray, saying “It’s a great way to do something that my little girl could see that she could relate to right away.” The animators videotaped Joel to base the dog’s animation on his movements. Upon seeing the movie and his canine incarnation, his then-wife, model Christie Brinkley, said: “His face looks like your face.”

From urban America, we move to its rural heartlands for another 80s animated Disney flick adapted from a novel that features not only a hound voiced by a famous actor, but also a fox…


Kurt Russell as Copper in The Fox And The Hound (1981)

The Fox And The Hound (1981), loosely based on Daniel P. Mannix’s novel of the same name, tells the story of an unlikely friendship between Tod the fox (Mickey Rooney) and hound Copper (Kurt Russell). As pups, Tod and Copper were the “best of friends“. However, as they grew older, their friendship is put to the test when Copper’s master trains him to become a hunting dog. Can these natural enemies still be buddies, or will it all end in blood and tears?

At the time, Rooney had just finished filming Pete’s Dragon (1977) and was a shoo-in for the voice of adult Tod. The voice for adult Copper, though, was harder to find and was the last to be cast. Jackie Cooper had auditioned for the role, but quit when he demanded more money than Disney was willing to pay.

Disney then cast their eyes towards former Mickey Mouse club member Kurt Russell, who had started his career at the age of 14. He completed his dialogue for Copper in just two recording sessions.

One of the animators who worked on the film was Don Bluth, who left Disney to set up his own studio, Sullivan Bluth Studios. You might not know this studio by name, but if you grew up in the 1980s, you’re bound to remember this animated cult classic he directed…

Burt Reynolds as Charlie in All Dogs Go To Heaven (1989)

All dogs go to heaven but, as the film’s tagline goes, “not all dogs stay there!” After getting iced by another mutt, incorrigible con artist and German shepherd/collie mix Charlie B. Barkin (Burt Reynolds) is sent to the big doghouse in the sky, despite never having performed a single good deed in his life. When he steals a watch representing his life and winds it back, he returns to earth, but learns that if the watch stops again, he will not return to heaven and end up in hell instead.

Charlie teams up with his partner-in-crime Itchy Itchiford (Dom DeLuise) to take revenge on his killer, while taking care of an orphan girl who can talk to animals.

All Dogs was originally a noir parody with a mangy German shepherd as a private eye, and the dog was designed specifically for the late Smokey And The Bandit (1977) star Reynolds. Reynolds and DeLuise requested to record their parts in the studio together – an unusual practice because American animation voice actors usually worked solo.

The director Don Bluth agreed. This allowed Reynolds and DeLuise to ad-lib extensively, which improved the original script. The animators based some of Charlie’s mannerisms on Reynolds. Bluth said: “Burt has a way of cocking his head and raising his eyebrows at half-mast, just an incredible way of using his face, so that aspect of the real Burt went straight into Charlie the dog.” The model for Charlie was a German shepherd, who was appropriately named Burt.


Ellen DeGeneres as Dory in Finding Nemo (2003)

In Pixar’s unforgettable 2003 computer-animated film Finding Nemo, DeGeneres voices Dory, a blue tang afflicted with short-term memory loss. She encounters Marlin (Albert Brooks), a clownfish looking for his missing son Nemo (Alexander Gould) in the Great Barrier Reef. Buoyed by her cheerful optimism, the two set off on an epic adventure over land and sea to find Nemo and bring him home. Dory returns in the sequel Finding Dory (2016), in which the amnesiac fish journeys to the fictional Marine Life Institute to reunite with her parents.

According to director Andrew Stanton on the film’s audio commentary, Dory was originally going to be a male character. But while he was writing the script, he saw his wife watching The Ellen DeGeneres Show and he observed that DeGeneres changed “the subject five times before finishing one sentence”. Inspired by DeGeneres’ voice and speech pattern, he decided to change Dory to a female and cast the TV show host in the role.

After the huge success of Nemo – it was the second highest-grossing-film of 2003 behind The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King – Degeneres has made a running joke on her show over the years about wanting to do a sequel, with her wish finally fulfilled in 2016’s Finding Dory.

Here’s a fun fact: Marlin’s voice actor Albert Brooks had a cameo role in The Secret Life Of Pets as Tiberius, a lonely red-tailed hawk with a ravenous appetite for Gidget and her pals.


Patton Oswalt as Remy in Ratatouille (2007)

It’s tough being a chef in a French fine-dining restaurant, but it’s even tougher if you’re a rat. But Remy, a rodent with big ambitions and an even bigger hunger for good food, is willing to do whatever it takes to cook at the restaurant of his recently deceased idol, Auguste Gusteau. When he meets the restaurant’s clumsy garbage boy Alfredo Linguini, the two work out a partnership that allows Linguini to be competent enough to keep his job and Remy to live out his dream by proxy. But with the jealous new owner keeping a close watch and a ruthless food critic having his knives out for them, Remy and Linguini are in for a real kitchen nightmare.

Director Brad Bird cast stand-up comedian Oswalt in Ratatouille after hearing his comedy routine about the Black Angus Steakhouse commercials. Bird had known Oswalt for a while – the comedian is a rabid fan of both great animation and fine food – and his “passion, exuberance and volatility” impressed Bird. The Pixar director quickly put together a test using that routine and some footage of Remy, and the test was enough to sell Oswalt to everyone at Pixar.

When Bird told Oswalt he wanted the comedian to be the lead in his movie, Oswalt thought it was a friend pulling a prank on him. After “about a week of calls”, Oswalt finally realised it was indeed Bird and took the offer. Oswalt ad-libbed a few of his lines, such as Remy’s excited rambles (“Bam, bam, bam!”) over the cooking of a mushroom and when he orders his fellow rats to prepare food in Gusteau’s kitchen (“Work it, stick and move”).

The comedian returned to voice the character in Your Friend The Rat, a short film included with the home-video release of Ratatouille. In the short, which you can watch above, Remy and his brother Emile (voiced by Pixarian Peter Sohn) argue for the reconciliation of humans and rats.


Patton Oswalt as Max in The Secret Life of Pets 2 (2018)

Who’s a good boy? It’s Patton Oswalt as Max the terrier, that’s who. Credit: IMDB

Oswalt has since gone on to voice many other cartoon characters like Atom in Teen Titans! Go To The Movies (2018) and a vicious food critic named Moody Foodie in the TV show Bob’s Burgers. His latest animated role is as Max the terrier in The Secret Life Of Pets 2. One of his co-stars in this new movie is Jenny Slate, who voices the irrepressible Gidget.

She’s a gorgeous white pomeranian who binge-watches telenovelas and has a crush on Max. Slate is a seasoned voice actor who was Valerie Da Vinci in Despicable Me 3 (2017), Harley Quinn in The Lego Batman Movie (2017), and Assistant Mayor Bellwether in Zootopia (2016). Other notable names in Pets 2 include Tiffany Haddish (who voiced Queen Watevra Wa’Nabi in The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part) as Daisy the Shih Tzu; Hannibal Buress of The Eric Andre Show as Buddy the daschund and comedian Kevin Hart as Snowball the rabbit.

Rooster (Harrison Ford) teaches the timid Max how to be a raider of the lost bark. Credit: IMDB

But one actor is new to the voice-acting game – Harrison Ford stars in his first animated role as Welsh sheepdog Rooster, a gruff old-timer who shows Max how to be a “real dog”. In an interview with Today, viewers were polled on what dog breed Ford reminds them of. Fifty-two per cent said “German shepherd”, although interestingly 5 per cent said “chihuahua”. Ford, a dog owner himself, said he would prefer a “chocolate lab”.

With these big names and adorable animals, The Secret Life Of Pets 2 is a must-watch for animation fans and those who want to uncover the secret behind communicating with their fur babies.


Sources: Golden Village, IMDBThe Morning Call, D23 The Official Disney Fan Club, The Animated Films of Don Bluth, TheEllenShow, Ain’t It Cool News, RatatouilleMovie, The Disney Wiki, Today


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