Correction: An earlier version of this review misspelled the last name of Hannibal Buress. This version has been updated.

A terrier named Max (Louis C.K.) starts to feel neglected as a favorite pet when his owner Katie (Ellie Kemper) gets a new dog. The sloppy mongrel named Duke (Eric Stonestreet) becomes his rival. (  / Universal)

“The Secret Life of Pets” is like how I imagine dog food tastes: blandly palatable, but apparently containing some mysterious ingredient with an appeal that lies beyond my species. Although others at a recent screening were certainly gobbling up the animated, animal-centric comedy’s kibble of one-liners and sight gags, the film’s humor remained largely imperceptible to me.

I repeat: largely.

Kevin Hart provides the voice of the film’s villain, a manic, maniacal white bunny named Snowball, and he is, as you might expect, hilarious. Every minute the character is onscreen is a demented joy, and every minute he is not is, well, not.

Snowball figures in the story thus: When the rivalry between a dutiful terrier named Max (Louis C.K.) and his slobbering new mutt of a housemate, Duke (Eric Stone­street), spills out of their cozy apartment and into the street, the two dogs go missing, falling afoul of Snowball — a former magician’s rabbit relegated to the trash — and his subterranean gang of unwanted, undomesticated animals. Called the Flushed Pets, Snowball’s crew includes an alligator (presumably dumped down the toilet once it got too big) and a pig once used for inking practice in a tattoo parlor. With their irrational anger directed not at society, but at animals that have found human companionship — “leash lovers,” in Snowball’s spit-flecked parlance — the outcasts chase after Max and Duke, who are simultaneously being sought by a menagerie of their friends, led by a Pomeranian named Gidget (Jenny Slate), who has a crush on Max.


Deranged rabbit Snowball (voiced by Kevin Hart) and his underground gang have put a target on the lost “leash lover” Max (Louis C.K.) in “The Secret Life of Pets.” (Illumination Entertainment/Universal Pictures)

And that, as they say, is that. Including a subplot involving animal control officers, the movie is essentially one long chase sequence, which itself is merely a pretext for a string of hit-or-miss jokes. When one of a bowl of Sea-Monkeys — weird-looking brine shrimp, a novelty pet sold from the back of comic books during the Cold War — cracks that, “It’s not our fault we don’t look like the ad,” you could have heard crickets chirping. There’s plenty of humor in the film that only a 5-year-old would appreciate. (Poop jokes, anyone?) But I’m not sure that viewers younger than 50 will get the Sea-Monkeys reference.

A few bits are more successful, including a surreal set piece in which Max and Duke, who have wandered into a hot dog factory, imagine an elaborate musical number featuring dancing weiners: “We Go Together” from “Grease,” as if choreographed by Busby Berkeley. It’s nutty, and has nothing to do with anything, other than the way dogs’ minds work.


(L to R): Duke (Eric Stonestreet), owner Katie (Ellie Kemper) and terrier mix Max (Louis C.K.). (Illumination Entertainment/Universal Pictures)

Buddy, a dachshund voiced by Hannibal Buress. (Illumination Entertainment/Universal Pictures)

Speaking of which, there’s precious little of that, other than a recurring gag about how easily dogs are distracted. (It was funnier in “Up.”) And the theme of human mistreatment of animals is no more than a whiff here. Why couldn’t the film have found a way to be both relevant and funny, a la “Zootopia”?

As for the voice talent, with the exception of C.K., whose put-upon comedic persona is a good fit for Max, and Hart, whose Snowball seems to be running on a liter of sugary soda and adrenaline, the characters sound pretty nondescript. Stonestreet is virtually unidentifiable, and several other actors — Lake Bell as a cat, Bobby Moynihan as a pug, Hannibal Buress as a dachshund — are wasted.

“The Secret Life of Pets” comes from Illumination Entertainment, which brought you “Despicable Me” and “Minions.” Its signature exaggerated animation style — spindly legs, oversized torsos — is on display, and occasionally inspired. But the humor is generic. And the film’s most obvious comparison — it’s been called “Toy Story” with animals — only points up the one thing “Pets” lacks, and that any animal lover will tell you their furred and feathered friends have, in spades: personality.

PG. At area theaters. Contains slapstick action and rude humor. 91 minutes.