There's an underlying sweetness in The Secret Life of Pets 2 that makes it all worthwhile, an emotional core that is rare within Illumination Entertainment films yet an emotional core that makes all the frenzied madness we've come to expect from Illumination, makers of films such as the Despicable Me films, an awful lot more fun to watch and a whole lot more meaningful.
Patton Oswalt replaces Louis C.K. as the voice of Max, a neurotic Jack Russell terrier who in the first film landed in the home of Katie (Ellie Kemper) before ending up in a series of increasingly ludicrous adventures. The Secret Life of Pets 2 kicks off with Max celebrating his domestic bliss while surrounded by a city park filled with household pets and their underage miscreants.
Max's world is about to get rocked. Katie weds and the two produce Liam (Henry Lynch), a precocious infant turned toddler whose presence amplifies Max's already existing neuroses.
The Secret Life of Pets 2 is at its warmest, fuzziest, and funniest when it stays in low-key mode as the family heads out for a holiday on a family farm and Rooster, a gruff sheepdog voiced by Harrison Ford in his animated feature debut, takes Max under his wing and teaches him a thing or two about letting go. While Max is away, Jenny Slate's Gidget, a pomeranian extraordinaire who still swoons for Max, is tasked with guarding Max's beloved favorite toy and, of course, promptly loses said toy. A scene involving Lake Bell's rotund tabby Chloe teaching Gidget how to act more cat-like is easily one of the film's funniest scenes and will likely have cat lovers howling with delight.
I know it did the kiddoes in the promo screening I attended.
Not quite as successful is a completely unnecessary set-up involving Kevin Hart's Snowball, a white bunny who has turned himself into Captain Snowball, a superhero for animals, and who finds himself involved with Tiffany Haddish's shih-tzu named Sonya in a rescue mission involving a circus dwelling tiger abused by Nick Kroll's dastardly Sergei. While some of the circus scenes, particularly an extended scene involving a train, are visually appealing, the storyline is paper thin and completely unnecessary.
There's not a lot of substance to be found in The Secret Life of Pets 2, though it's hard to argue with a film that aims for sweet, funny, and adorable and for the most part delivers sweet, funny, and adorable. The animation is warm and immersive, while Alexandre Desplat's original music is vibrant and energized. The vocal work is strong throughout, Patton Oswalt adding an earthiness and emotional variance to Max that makes him even more adorable while the addition of Harrison Ford capitalizes on everything we know and love about Harrison Ford. The film is a bit less manic than its predecessor, at least for the most part, while the scenes involving Sergei are just a wee bit more intense than we found in the original film. There's never any doubt at all that Sergei is abusing his timid white tiger.
The Secret Life of Pets 2 hits a dead spot about midway through the breezy 82-minute film, a few minutes where the film seems to run out of juice before its final third picks up steam and delivers all the squeals and feels that will make the kiddoes happy. Indeed, the kiddoes at the promo screening were wildly happy, enthusiastically applauding at film's end while letting out loud collective "Awwwww!" sounds in all the right places throughout the film.
The Secret Life of Pets snagged a global box-office of right around $875 million - a sequel was inevitable. While The Secret Life of Pets 2 isn't quite as fresh and funny as its predecessor, it's a slower, more sincere and still incredibly silly film that should appeal to just about anyone who loved the original film.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic