The Secret Life of Pets 2, 2019.
Directed by Chris Renaud.
Featuring the voice talents of Patton Oswalt, Eric Stonestreet, Kevin Hart, Jenny Slate, Ellie Kemper, Lake Bell, Dana Carvey, Hannibal Buress, Bobby Moynihan, Tiffany Haddish, Nick Kroll, Pete Holmes, Henry Lynch, Chris Renaud, and Harrison Ford.
Continuing the story of Max and his pet friends, following their secret lives after their owners leave them for work or school each day.
There’s very little to say about The Secret Life of Pets 2, which continues Illumination’s depressingly successful formula of pandering to the masses with generic humor and stories designed to keep antsy children sitting still for 90 minutes. It’s hyperactive, bland, listless, and squanders the few intriguing concepts it does bring to the table by burying them under subplots, it’s impossible to become invested. During the climactic chase sequence (which starts out in the most unoriginal depiction of an amusement park possible and extends to a train set piece), my attention actually started drifting away entirely. None of it was exciting and all of it was executed without a single creative dog bone.
The basic concept is promising, essentially putting a spin on the tired tropes of new characters causing a panic of receiving less attention (part of the first film’s narrative). This time in the prologue, Max’s owner (it’s also important to note that Max is now voiced by Patton Oswalt, taking over for Louis C.K. due to obvious reasons) finds love, which naturally leads to a baby. Rather than do the same story over again (I actually wouldn’t put it past Illumination to do something like this given the financial success of the first movie and the likeliness that this will also be a smash hit regardless of what critics such as myself say), the dog and child develop a bond over the years, with Max becoming overly protective. One could argue Max would shelter the child more than strict parents.
Terrified of being apart from the child about to begin preschool, Max begins having a canine crisis, worried sick that something bad will happen. His fears run so deep that he interacts with many of the other animals living in the city’s apartment complex to assist him in watching over the child. Nevertheless, before school officially begins the family decides to go on a vacation on grandpa’s farmhouse, introducing a hardened, experienced, rugged, country life dog voiced by Harrison Ford of all people (if you want a character that has seen it all and simply doesn’t give a damn, you might as well cast an actor that doesn’t give a damn about the role).
This is where The Secret Life of Pets 2 splinters off into a movie failing to properly distribute time to a myriad of plots. Jenny Slate returns as the voice of Gidget, who is tasked with watching over Max’s favorite toy while he is gone, which clearly goes wrong and develops into the chipper dog learning how to act like a cat from Lake Bell (her character’s indifference to the situations all of these pets find themselves involved in pretty much sums up my thought process watching the movie) to infiltrate a crazy elderly cat lady’s home and retrieve it. Then there’s Kevin Hart’s rabbit Snowball as perky and upbeat as ever, seeking to deliver justice as a superhero. He gets word from a dog voiced by Tiffany Haddish that a circus tiger has been locked up and is being abused, igniting a rescue mission filled with mishaps along the way.
The problem with all of this is that all of the city shenanigans takes away from the central story, which is Max undergoing some wisdom from Rooster (Harrison Ford) on how to become brave and not let the everyday horrors of the world control one’s self. Of course, the juxtaposition between city life and countryside farmhouse life informs the personalities of these characters; it’s easy to buy into a gruff badass like Harrison Ford strengthening anyone. And while the visuals are nothing impressive, it’s aesthetically nice to have a sequel delivering more of the same in a new environment.
As mentioned, there’s just not enough there to make the story arc feel complete; the movie is already only 86 minutes (that’s counting the ending credits as well), and with multiple threads going on, you’re looking at 30 minutes tops for these characters to interact and go through their development. As such, the actual message comes across muddled; it’s attempting to express the need to find a balance between being protective and fearful, but in some ways comes across as wrongfully blunt and misguided as one of your Facebook relatives sharing some stupid meme exclaiming “back in my day our kids weren’t weaklings, they were drinking and smoking as teenagers and receiving beatings as disciplinary punishment and they turned out fine! Woooooo America, vote Trump!”
At the very least, the cutesy glimpses inside the minds of various animal types are amusing and generate a laugh here and there. However, The Secret Life of Pets 2 spreads itself so far out (we really didn’t need all of these characters to return and get their own meaningless storylines) that whatever fun there is to be had is scarce. It’s so fragmented and disjointed that one quickly becomes numb to everything going on, only occasionally springing to life for the amusement of Harrison Ford voicing a dog. I wish I had Kevin Hart’s voiceover energy watching this, but it’s just too dull.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com