It was Friday night our weekly family movie night. We were eager to watch The Secret Life of Pets. We by-passed seeing it in the theater because we have three kids and one of them is a three-year-old. When it was finally available to rent on Amazon, we were all on the edge of our couches in high hopes of being fully entertained by this behind-the-scenes movie of what goes on in the heads and hearts of pets. 

I was ready for my heart to swell and tears to fall. I truly thought that this movie was going to be brilliant, but instead it was brutal – literally brutal. Partying, lying, yelling, manipulating, intimidating, screaming, fighting, hating, and name-calling. It was disturbing! Never before had I seen so much bullying packed into one kids’ movie in my life.

I was livid. Why didn’t I just turn it off? Trust me. I wanted to. I was shocked at what I was watching, but I was holding on to the fact that surely the movie-makers wouldn’t put us through all of this garbage and not have a very powerful message of love and kindness or respecting each other’s differences, right? Surely it would be like Gru who changed his heart or the Boovs who realized how unkind they had been to Oh and decide to be his friend, right? WRONG! 

There was no deep, meaningful lesson. Everything was half-hearted, lukewarm, and forced with a side of sarcasm and narcissism. This movie was just downright disturbing—gang-fighting, violence, murder…yes, murder! The most jaw-dropping-I-can’t-believe-they-are-saying-this scene was when pets were asked to share all the gory details about how they murdered their owners before they got branded into their gang! What? Really? This is what we want our kids to think that our pets are doing when we’re not at home – plotting our murders? And this is the kind of movie that we were supposed to sit and enjoy with our kids as a family? I don’t think so!

I can certainly respect a good conflict or plot twist and the whole good guy/bad guy thing, but in this movie the line between good guy and bad guy were so blurred that everyone was just beating up everyone! 

And we wonder why bullying is such a problem in our country. Well, I’ll tell you. This. This movie is the problem. It’s movies like this that are creating a culture where bullying is not only happening and kids are witnessing it, but it’s also labeling bullying as entertaining, funny and as something we’re supposed to laugh at and enjoy. I was not laughing at all. I was sick to my stomach!

Bullying is not funny. Bullying is not entertaining and our kids’ movie makers are crossing the line. Slowly, they have been adding more and more cruelty and inappropriate conduct into their movies. Slowly, they have quit making G movies altogether and started pushing the boundaries on the PG ones. And the problem is that we keep paying to watch them. I’m guilty of it too! I’ve justified that my “that wasn’t very kind” or “that wasn’t a very loving choice” during those scenes where bullying takes place somehow makes it OK. And the fact that my kids have kindness and love modeled to them all day long makes it OK. But what about the kids who don’t have kindness and love at home? What about the kids who get bullied at school? What about the kids who choose to bully? They see movies like this and see everyone laughing and think that bullying is OK behavior! Kids imitate what they see!

So to those who made The Secret Life of Pets and other kids’ movies, I have some questions for you?

  • Do you think it’s OK for kids to intimidate, manipulate, and over-power other kids?
  • Do you think it’s OK for kids to call each other “stupid” or “idiot” or “moron”?
  • Do you think it’s OK for kids to pound someone’s face in and scream at them while friends stand around watching…doing nothing?

No? Then don’t have a fuzzy bunny or a cute little fluffy dog do these things either. Mean is mean. Bullying is bullying. It doesn’t matter if it’s a cuddly cartoon character or not! Stop being a part of the problem and calling it entertainment. 

Your movies are glorifying bullying. They are making it acceptable and I fear that the kids in our country are becoming more and more numb to it. And so are we as parents. The proof of that? I just found out that a grade school was going to show “The Secret Life of Pets” as their “feel good” movie before Christmas break. They were warned again and again about the excessive bullying and they are showing it anyway. 

Christine Leeb

Christine Leeb--Speaker and Christian Family Coach specializing in Parenting and Child Discipline.  Founder of Real Life Families--a non-profit organization building better families through free classes and resources.  Mother to three awesome (and exhausting) children from whom she shamefully hides brownies.  Wife to one patient (and polar-opposite) husband with whom she constantly quotes "Friends".