The Secret Life of Pets 2 is the sequel to the highly successful 2016 CG-animated film from Illumination, also known for the Despicable Me franchise and their tiny yellow mascots, the Minions. This movie once again revolves around a group of city pets who talk and live private lives when their owners are not around. Since I didn’t see the first Secret Life of Pets in theaters, I watched it for the first-time last night in preparation for the sequel. While the original wasn’t bad per se, it never rises above being a mediocre Toy Story ripoff with cute animals. Although the sequel doesn’t necessarily rip off Toy Story 2, probably because the first Secret Life of Pets already borrowed plenty of elements, it’s still not much better and possibly even more forgettable.
I usually don’t talk about writing until the end of my reviews, but I have to talk about the writing of this movie because the story of Secret Life of Pets 2 takes a different approach from its predecessor. It begins with the main dog Max (Patton Oswalt) narrating about how his owner Katie is married and has a child who Max grows to love and protect. Most people will think this is the movie’s focus, only for it to forget that relationship after five minutes in favor of three intersecting Pulp Fiction-like storylines, as pointed out by the YouTube channel Double Toasted.
The first story involves Max and his much bigger brother Duke (Eric Stonestreet of Modern Family fame) go with their family to a farm where Max butts heads with the farm’s stern sheepdog Rooster (Harrison Ford). The second sees Max’s friend/neighbor Gidget (Jenny Slate) loses Max’s favorite chew toy in the crazy cat lady’s apartment, so her cat friend Chloe (Lake Bell) teaches her how to be a cat. And the third revolves around the white bunny Snowball (Kevin Hart), who this time is a superhero, and is asked by a Shih Tzu named Daisy (Tiffany Haddish) to save a helpless tiger named Hu from her abusive Russian circus owner Sergei (Nick Kroll). None of these stories are particularly special and the constant shifting between all three as the movie progresses doesn’t help. This would’ve worked better as a series of isolated TV shorts rather than cramming three not-so-great stories into an eighty-six-minute movie runtime. Even worse, they all come together for a finale that feels so stupid and slapdash.
The writing isn’t much better or even more consistent. For example, Max has a cone placed around his neck at the vet because he keeps scratching himself. Later in the film, Rooster frees Max of this cone but neither Katie nor her husband Chuck (Pete Holmes) seems to notice. Did Katie think that Max finally stopped scratching or are her and Chuck simply oblivious to their dogs’ actions? These glaring continuity errors may not bother a kid, but they did bother me. Speaking of kids, the jokes in The Secret Life of Pets 2 are similar to the original in that they mostly rely on dumb slapstick and animalistic cuteness. In fact, the end credits include clips of YouTube videos with dogs and kids, which is obviously where much of the humor originated from. These jokes will surely appeal to kids like the many children who attended my morning showtime, but I can’t say the same about adults who will, at best, chuckle at some of the jokes. I am, however, surprised that one of the animals said pissed in a PG-rated family movie. Did the editor not notice or is the MPAA less strict with language in family movies?
The voice acting in The Secret Life of Pets 2 is serviceable, mostly because there isn’t much to say about it. Patton Oswalt replaces Louis C.K. as the voice of Max and he’s alright but doesn’t sound much like C.K at all. If anything, C.K. brought more personality to his interpretation of Max. Duke doesn’t do much here and is probably only in the movie because he’s Max’s non-biological brother. Kevin Hart once again plays Kevin Hart but this time he is a superhero, because that is what’s in these days. Tiffany Haddish is surprisingly restrained as Daisy but performs a far better job rescuing Hu than Snowball, to the point where she probably could’ve done it on her own.
First-time voice actor Harrison Ford arguably gives the best performance as this grumpy old guard dog who teaches Max to toughen up, but he’s barely in the movie despite being amongst the characters with their own trailer. Hopefully, this movie opens the doors for him to star in better animated movies. One notable absence is the eagle Tiberius, formally voiced by Albert Brooks in the first movie, who lives in the same building as the other pets and he is now Gidget’s best friend, so why does the movie never explain his whereabouts? Either Brooks didn’t want to come back or Illumination didn’t want to hire him again?
The Secret Life of Pets 2’s animation and music are possibly its greatest strengths, but that still isn’t saying much. It’s pretty to look at but the he character designs and settings lack much personality. At one point, I thought Max and Duke were back in New York because the green fields in Central Park looked just as green as the farm’s fields, right down to having the same colorful trees. There was one fun 2D-animated bit with Snowball’s superhero alter ego Captain Snowball but that only last for two or three minutes. Alexander Desplat once again composes the musical score but it’s hardly his best work. Additionally, Illumination had the nerve to play a shortened version of John Williams’s Superman theme during an unfunny moment with Captain Snowball. Why?
Verdict: 2 out of 5
I know I’ve spent most of the review criticizing The Secret Life of Pets 2 but it’s not a horrible movie. The film is well animated and inoffensive enough to entertain general audiences, but it doesn’t feel necessary enough to justify a theatrical release. Kids who really want to see this movie will likely have a good time, but parents should still try to look for something better, either at home or in theaters.