Don't underestimate Kevin Hart's cuddly new character
KEVIN Hart is often the butt of the joke in his films.
Whether it's a quip about the comedian's height or his high-pitched voice, he's a very physical actor who's not afraid to poke fun at himself.
But in his latest movie role, the American funnyman lets rip from the safety of a recording studio.
Hart plays a white rabbit named Snowball in The Secret Life of Pets, the new family film from the creators of Despicable Me.
"It (the role) came out of nowhere but I'm glad that it did," Hart tells Weekend.
"It's a great character, Snowball is a very, very funny character."
The film follows a terrier named Max (Louis CK) whose quiet life with his owner is upended when she takes in Duke (Eric Stonestreet), a stray whom Max instantly dislikes.
Hart immediately related to the film's central concept of taking a look at what pets do when their owners aren't home.
"I'm a dog guy. I've got a doberman pinscher and the little version (miniature pinscher)," he says.
"I wonder all the time what are my dogs doing when I leave.
"It wouldn't shock me (if they get up to trouble). My little one is bad. I don't know what that little one is up to."
When a series of events leads Max and Duke out on to the city streets, they are mistaken for strays and locked in a van bound for the pound.
Luckily, the rebellious bunny Snowball swoops in to save the doggy duo from captivity.
In exchange, Snowball demands that Max and Duke join his gang of abandoned pets on a mission against the humans who have done them wrong.
"He's a guy who, in his mind, is starting a revolution and he's doing it by grabbing an abundance of pets who have been through what he's been through and they should have no problem following him," Hart says.
"What makes Snowball so amazing is he's complex; he's insecure within his security. The vision is always there but the actions don't always come out the way he thinks they should."
Laying down his voice tracks in the recording studio was a learning experience for Hart, who is most comfortable doing stand-up comedy.
But the film's directors, Yarrow Cheney and Chris Renaud, known for the Despicable Me franchise, were on hand to guide him through the lengthy process.
"Their track record is amazing, so coming in and jumping on their success train is always a good thing," Hart says.
"It's a long process doing an animated film. After my eighth session I started to see Snowball come to life and I was blown away.
"I think it's any actor's dream to get lucky and get one of the franchises that develop into parts one, two and three. Everybody wants to be the donkey in Shrek; that was an astronomical success story. If this bunny can get me in any way, shape or form (success like that) then I'll be happy."
Most importantly for Hart, though, was getting the thumbs up from his two children, Heaven and Hendrix.
"When I first took on the role I had a picture with Snowball looking happy and angry. They thought it was so funny to see him go from the cute and cuddly to the crazy bunny," he says.
"When my kids laughed I knew I was doing the right thing. They're my biggest critics, It's almost adult-like the way kids talk about these animated films."
Hart enjoyed the experience so much he's signed on to another animated film, Dreamworks' Captain Underpants, due for release next year.
The Secret Life of Pets opens on Thursday.
Stars: Louis CK, Eric Stonestreet, Kevin Hart, Albert Brooks, Ellie Kemper.
Directors: Yarrow Cheney, Chris Renaud.
Reviewer's last word: This fast-paced and funny animated family film is simple yet entertaining for movie-goers of all ages thanks to a talented voice cast.
Star Profile: Kevin Hart
Quirky fact: Once worked as a shoe salesman, but quit the job to work full-time in comedy clubs.
Best known for: Ride Along, Get Hard, The Wedding Ringer.
If you like this movie you'll like these: Despicable Me, Minions, Finding Dory.
Quote: "A reputation as a hard worker is a good reputation to have. It's also about being professional and very loyal to the people who put me here, which would be my fans."