Synopsis – Continuing the story of Max and his pet friends, following their secret lives after their owners leave them for work or school each day.
My Take – Released back in 2016, The Secret Life of Pets was a gorgeous looking animated film from Illumination Entertainment (the masterminds behind the shrieking yellow nightmares known as Minions) which had enough chuckles and cute moments to pass as a watchable family entertainer.
However undeniably, its major faults lied in its core plot which was obviously derived from rival Disney-Pixar‘s Toy Story (1995), only replacing the toys with pets. It even used the exact same story beats about the protagonist being the human’s companion for the longest time, but gets jealous with a newer entry, but when they both find themselves lost, they work together to find their home, all the way becoming best friends.
Add to that a plethora of even more animated comedy clichés, the hit-or-miss humor, and we basically have an entire 86 minute film about pet shenanigans.
Nevertheless, despite the mixed critical reception, the film ended up earning $875 million worldwide, hereby confirming a sequel with director Chris Renaud returning, along with most of the voice cast, except for Louis C.K., who has been replaced by Patton Oswalt, due to his own form of shenanigans (no offense).
While I was not exactly jumping out of my seat when the first trailer for the sequel dropped, like how much can you play around with a one note concept despite being universally relatable? But having seen this film, I am surprised to say – it’s good to be back.
Yes, this sequel is significantly better than the first; in fact, I would go so far as to say that this film was a second attempt at the original. Aided by co-director Jonathan del Val, here director Chris Renaud works with a better script, better humor, and most importantly better grounds itself in its own universe.
Like its main three characters, it has learned to be comfortable in its own animated skin, far away from being a a rip-off of the much beloved Toy Story.
Taking place sometime after the events of the first film, the story once again follows Max (voiced by Patton Oswalt), who has now learned to co-exist with Duke (voiced by Eric Stonestreet), for their owner Katie (voiced by Ellie Kemper).
But as soon as Katie meets Chuck (voiced by Pete Holmes), their family grows bigger, with the two getting married and having a son named Liam (voiced by Henry Lynch). While Max is initially apprehensive of the infant, due to his general dislike of kids, but over time grows to become very overprotective of him, to the point where it’s causing him extreme anxiety.
However, Max is quite amused when Duke tells him that the family would be making a trip to the farm to visit relatives. Believing a change of scenery would help him, that is until they come across Rooster (voiced by Harrison Ford), an alpha dog, who demands respect and control over the various animals living there.
Meanwhile, Gidget (voiced by Jenny Slate), the little white Pomeranian who harbors a not-so-secret crush on Max, finds herself in an impossible position, when she loses Max’s favorite toy in the home of a lady with three dozen cats lurking in the dark.
In order to not disappoint Max, she enlists the help of Chloe (voiced by Lake Bell), the fat cat, to train her to convincingly break in and out as a feline.
Elsewhere, Snowball (voiced by Kevin Hart), the former anarchist rabbit who has adjusted nicely to domesticated life, and has now adopted the persona of a superhero, Captain Snowball, for playtime, joins Daisy the dog (voiced by Tiffany Haddish) to help rescue a white tiger cub from a traveling circus and its abusive owner, Sergei (voiced by Nick Kroll).
These alternating story lines do not come together until the brief third act, a wise decision since they are all jumbled, quick, and not deep enough to carry the whole film alone, forcing some convoluted stitching together. But they manage it, creating a solid piece of entertainment for all ages, if not a terribly revelatory one. But as these interconnected stories slowly converge over the course of the film, they deliver some pretty positive messages.
The film as a whole encourages young viewers to help others, to do the right thing, and to find the courage to face up to the stuff that may seem a bit too big and threatening. The loyalty various characters display as well as the characters going out on a limb (literally) to help other characters is remarkable and noteworthy.
This film openly takes the issues of the original, and fixes them. Rather than retreading old ground in such bland ways, the sequel takes a more creative path, and instead tells a story of Max’s internal, more emotional struggle that just about every parent in the audience can relate heavily to: learning how to be brave, and accept that your child can’t stay under your watchful eyes forever.
Both films in the franchise deal with a new addition to the family. Some funny and imaginative scenes also enliven the film, like when Katie takes Max to a vet for relief of his anxiety, he finds himself in a waiting room filled with neurotic pets that make his problem seem trivial.
Snowball is the star of his own fantasy superhero sequence, portrayed in traditional animation reminiscent of the styling of Batman. While Gidget dreams up a homey, cliché vision of married life with Max, complete with pups. Max undertakes a thrilling rescue of a mindless sheep at the direction of Rooster. An improbable but highly entertaining chase sequence involving a train in the climax is also a fast-paced winner.
The film also features some of the best animation Illumination has produced. Many times I found myself admiring the backgrounds, props, and settings. The apartments featured have a lived-in look complete with chips, cracks, and stains, and the farm scenes are detailed with perfection.
Now, this doesn’t mean that it breaks any new ground, or deserves an Oscar, absolutely not. The plot doesn’t contain any huge twists or narrative innovations, and the themes are extremely familiar to those who frequent showings of family films.
Here, the pets are shown essentially as animal extensions of their owners, so it feels a bit icky when Rooster scoffs at Max’s anxiety cone and essentially teaches him to shake it off. Some of us humans could use an anxiety cone, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Not to mention that the outlandish circus subplot with its pointy-nosed Russian villain also feels a bit outdated in a film that’s otherwise so urban and contemporary.
The voice cast also does quite well. Patton Oswalt is a fine replacement and is able to connect with the character’s timidity, wonder and makes a fine pair with the ever likable Eric Stonestreet. Harrison Ford gets to play with his own he-man screen persona and is pretty much great.
Lake Bell pretty much steals the film when her cat gets high on catnip. Jenny Slate is a treat as always, but nothing beats Kevin Hart‘s hilarious quips coming out of a tiny, fluffy bunny.
Tiffany Haddish is an excellent addition to this growing cast. In supporting roles, Dana Carvey, Ellie Kemper, Hannibal Buress, Nick Kroll, Pete Homes and Bobby Moynihan are also good. On the whole, ‘The Secret Life of Pets 2’ is a delightful and a fun-filled animated film with enough humor and fun to make it an enjoyable watch.
Rated – PG
Run Time – 86 minutes