Secret Life of Pets 2 Featured

When SECRET LIFE OF PETS, original recipe, first began to air trailers nigh on three years ago, I felt fairly dubious. I certainly did not expect to see — never mind review — a sequel years later. But then my animal-enthusiast daughter saw the trailer and begged to see it. PETS went on to make nearly $900 million, and here we are.

Perhaps (certainly) more interesting is the fate of the sequel after Louis CK was shown the door. Generally speaking, children’s entertainment would prefer not to be associated with sexual assaulters, so it only made sense. Still, would sending the serial self-pleasuring exhibitionist packing hurt the film? Will internet jerks hate on it because “PC Culture” and also that’s what internet jerks do?

Well, we will see on the latter. As for the former, check out below.

Secret Life of Pets 2: Max
Patton Oswalt is the new voice of Max in SECRET LIFE OF PETS 2 (Courtesy of Universal Pictures)

The Idea Behind SECRET LIFE OF PETS 2

Max (now voiced by Patton Oswalt) made peace with his adopted brother Duke (Eric Stonestreet) by the conclusion of our previous installment. In the interim, though, life has not stopped changing. His owner Katie (Ellie Kemper) went ahead and found herself a fella, Chuck (Pete Holmes), got married, and had a son named Liam (Henry Lynch). While Max had heretofore been a child-hater, he finds Liam so endearing he begins to pathologically obsess about the child’s safety. The dog develops a scratching tic and, before long, needs to be fitted with a collar. To give the poor pooch a break, the family packs it up and heads upstate to a farm. On the farm, Max and Duke encounter Rooster (Harrison Ford), a veteran shepherding dog who, seemingly, has no anxiety about anything.

Before Max goes, he entrusts his lovesick neighbor Gidget (Jenny Slate) with his favorite toy. She loses it about the time he leaves the city limits. As it lands in the “cat lady” apartment below hers, Gidget has to team up with Chloe, Max’s best cat friend.

Meanwhile, in the third plotline, Snowball (Kevin Hart) has fully accepted his role as a pet. However, he has begun to think of himself as an actual superhero rabbit due to all the make-believe he and his owner engage in. Because this gives him a reputation, Daisy (Tiffany Haddish) ends up on his doorstep in the hopes that he can help her save a white tiger cub from life with an abusive circus.

Secret Life of Pets 2: Gidget leads the charge
Jenny Slate’s Gidget (center) leads a pack of animals voiced by Lake Bell, Hannibal Buress, and Bobby Moynihan (left to right). (Courtesy of Universal Pictures)

Writing SECRET LIFE OF PETS 2

Brian Lynch, one of three writers of the original, tackles this installment by himself. In terms of characterization, he seems to have a good hold of the pets introduced in the first installment — although, with the exception of Max, none of them seem to have changed in the interim. Even Gidget, who seemingly changed a fair amount in the first installment, seems to have regressed to her beginning of PETS, the first, baseline. It’s not much, but it would have been nice to see her hold onto some of that character evolution.

Overall, though, it retains the skewed worldview of the first movie and that’s to its benefit.

In order to get spotlight time for the more major players — Max, Gidget, Snowball, and Daisy — Lynch had to craft the three separate plotlines. That makes a certain amount of sense. However, try as he might, he cannot pull them together in any kind of convincing manner at the end. If anything, you can feel the narrative flop sweat a lot more in the plotlines-colliding portion of the movie. Creating three separate plots might be more artificial, but you only notice it because of how hard the movie works to push them together in its final third.

Secret Life of Pets 2: Snowball, Daisy, and Pops
Kevin Hart’s Snowball and Tiffany Haddish’s Daisy ask Dana Carvey’s Pops for help with their latest scheme. (Courtesy of Universal Pictures)

Casting the Voices

Oswalt does fine as Max #2. He does not try to imitate CK which is certainly the right move. He feels a bit more like just being himself than he did in RATATOUILLE, on the other hand. The movie itself feels that way too, though. If ever an animated film could feel like a hangout movie, it is SECRET LIFE OF PETS 2. Only Hart as the bombastic Snowball and Dana Carvey as the aged wiener dog don, Pops, seem to be bothering with trying on a voice amongst the pet cast. Ford might be doing something as Rooster, but as is often the case with Ford performances, it is difficult to tell if he is being effortful or literally effortless. Either way, he seemed to have found the right groove for the terminally unaffected farm dog.

Nick Kroll as the closest thing to a villain the movie has — Sergei the abusive ringmaster — goes generously over the top. There is so little of him, and the movie feels so antithetical to his choices, though, that it just feels like wheel spinning.

Secret Life of Pets 2: Chloe
Lake Bell provides the voice of Chloe in SECRET LIFE OF PETS 2. (Courtesy of Universal Pictures)

Animating SECRET LIFE OF PETS 2

SECRET LIFE OF PETS 2 is definitely another entry in the Illumination house style. It takes on a slightly different feeling, though, as the focus is on the animals who are rendered fairly straightforward. A lot of the exaggeration you see in a DESPICABLE ME or LORAX film is largely absent here. Yes, Katie remains impossibly long-legged (in a non-exploitative way, to be clear). Indeed, her uncle is so much beard he appears to not have eyes. Still, none of that kind of impressionism is turned on the animals. The only exaggerations we get tend to enhance cuteness, as with the rescued tiger cub.

In general, Illumination’s animation always bums me out a bit. It is nowhere near the hyper-realistic Pixar but it is kind of a halfway-there cousin. Each follicle of hair is not individually animated but, at the same time, the animals are pretty realistic in appearance. I do not wish Illumination to be Pixar 2. That said, I’d love if they could develop something more interesting than their present house style. “Pick a single body part and exaggerate it” just does not feel like enough to me.

Secret Life of Pets 2: Max and Rooster
Harrison Ford’s Rooster looks down upon the anxious Max. (Courtesy of Universal Pictures)

That’s a Wrap

Despite my feelings towards Illumination as an animation house, SECRET LIFE OF PETS 2 is more or less on par with its previous installment. It is cute and sweet with an appealingly surreal side. It is not an animation classic by any stretch — but then, not every animated feature needs to be. If you or your kids were fans of the first one, you will find this a similarly appealing effort.

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