Though The Secret Life of Pets 2 features plenty of cutesy animal shenanigans, this only does so much to compensate for its flimsy and episodic story.
Since its founding in 2007, Illumination has come to specialize in animated entertainment that's targeted strictly at younger kids, even more so than the films made by rival studios like Disney and Pixar. There's nothing inherently wrong with that, either; not everything needs to be as deep as Inside Out or Ralph Breaks the Internet. And based on the box office success of properties like Despicable Me and The Secret Life of Pets, there's clearly a demand for Illumination's brand of zany animation. All the same, a sequel like The Secret Life of Pets 2 leaves something to be desired. Though The Secret Life of Pets 2 features plenty of cutesy animal shenanigans, this only does so much to compensate for its flimsy and episodic story.
The Secret Life of Pets 2 divides its many furry characters among three plot threads. One of them follows Max (Patton Oswalt, taking over from Louis C.K. in the first movie) and Duke (Eric Stonestreet) as they becoming dog-parents to Katie's (Ellie Kemper) toddler, Liam. The other two involve Snowball (Kevin Hart) and new addition Daisy (Tiffany Haddish) teaming up to rescue a white tiger from the circus, and Gidget (Jenny Slate) trying to recover Max's favorite squeaky toy, after he gives it to her for safe-keeping. For the large part, these storylines are pretty disconnected and feel like separate vignettes that've been loosely strung together to form a three-act narrative. And while they eventually come together when the film's climax rolls around, that only makes them seem somewhat less disjointed.
Max's storyline, in particular, is a curious one. The first Secret Life of Pets was essentially Toy Story with house pets, with Max and Duke filling in for Woody and Buzz Lightyear. It made sense for the movie, however, and boiled down to a story about a figurative only-child adjusting to life with a new sibling. For the sequel, longtime Illumination film writer Brian Lynch transforms Max into an insecure dad who needs to learn to be less over-protective of his (human) kid. As a result, Max's arc in The Secret Life of Pets 2 is something that only really speaks to adults and doesn't feel like a natural continuation of his journey in the previous movie. He receives some guidance from Rooster (Harrison Ford, who's basically playing Harrison Ford as an animated Welsh Sheepdog) along the way, but Rooster's advice often comes off feeling like a regressive criticism of modern parenting techniques, more than anything else.
The other plot threads here are far sillier and less substantial, but they're also where The Secret Life of Pets 2 works best. While there's a slight animal rights message to Snowball and Daisy's adventure together, it's otherwise an excuse for Hart's delightfully kooky white rabbit to pretend he's a superhero. Haddish's Shih Tzu is a smarter and more capable foil to Hart's character (similar to the actors' roles in last year's live-action comedy Night School), but their dynamic serves the movie's purposes well enough. By comparison, most of the comedy in Gidget's subplot involves the ditzy Pomeranian getting a crash-course from Chloe (Lake Bell) in how to be a cat. The Secret Life of Pets 2 resorts to some tedious gags based around stereotypical feline behavior in these scenes, but it throws enough jokes at the wall to land some full-blown laughs along the way. (And, of course, there's also bathroom humor for the juice box crowd to giggle at.)
Generally speaking, though, director Chris Renaud (who also helmed the original movie) keeps The Secret Life of Pets 2 moving at an energetic pace, and avoids stretching the overarching story any thinner than it already is. The sequel's animation is similarly glossy and playful, if not as richly detailed or expressive as the visuals from other recent mainstream computer-generated films. Illumination's character designs haven't evolved much over the years, either, and the movie's humans are only slight variations on the non-animals featured in the studio's previous films; for example, Nick Kroll as a villainous circus owner has pretty much the exact same curved nose as Gru. Overall, The Secret Life of Pets 2 is as bubbly and fluffy (pun partially intended) as its predecessor, but feels like it's treading water, when it comes to its aesthetic qualities.
As a whole, The Secret Life of Pets 2 has the same problem as Illumination's Despicable Me spinoff Minions: it plays out like a series of shorts that've been padded out into a somewhat ungainly full-length feature. Obviously, for a lot of people (families especially), The Secret Life of Pets' four-legged heroes and their antics are the real attraction, and the sequel ought to deliver enough of what they're looking for. Still, while other Illumination films have balanced their wacky comedy with simple and even touching stories, this one struggles to do the same. Fans of the original movie may want to check this one out anyway, but hopefully The Secret Life of Pets 3 (if it happens) will give them something a little more substantial to chew on.
The Secret Life of Pets 2 is now playing in U.S. theaters. It is 86 minutes long and is rated PG for some action and rude humor.
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- The Secret Life of Pets 2 (2019) release date: Jun 07, 2019