The Secret Life of Pets 2, 2019.
Directed by Chris Renaud.
Featuring the voice talents of Patton Oswalt, Jenny Slate, Eric Stonestreet, Kevin Hart, Lake Bell, Hannibal Buress, Bobby Moynihan, Dana Carvey, Harrison Ford, Tiffany Haddish, Pete Holmes, Garth Jennings, Ellie Kemper, and Nick Kroll.
Continuing the story of Max and his pet friends, following their secret lives after their owners leave them for work or school each day.
Despite arguably proving to be the most anodyne offering from Illumination Entertainment to date, 2016’s The Secret Life of Pets succeeded to the tune of $875 million worldwide, ensuring that a sequel would be loaded onto the animation house’s ruthlessly efficient, mid-budget conveyor belt as soon as possible.
And so, we have The Secret Life of Pets 2, a sequel that’s certainly no worse than its predecessor, but also not much better, and basically just as forgettable.
The story begins with canine protagonist Max (Patton Oswalt, replacing the disgraced Louis C.K.) adjusting to a new life, as his owner Katie (Ellie Kemper) has married and now has an infant son, Liam (Henry Lynch).
Max has become anxious and overprotective of Liam, and as the family ventures on a trip to the countryside, Max meets a no-nonsense Welsh Sheepdog, Rooster (Harrison Ford), who offers some sage food-for-thought.
Squeaky-voiced Pomeranian Gidget (Jenny Slate) is meanwhile trying to rescue Max’s favourite toy, a plastic bee-shaped chew toy, after an accident sends it hurtling into an apartment filled with dozens of cats; and demented bunny rabbit Snowball (Kevin Hart) attempts to liberate a white tiger, Hu, from its cruel circus master, Sergei (Nick Kroll).
If these three narrative threads sound wholly disconnected from one another, it’s because they absolutely are, and writer Brian Lynch makes precious little effort to tether them together in an even superficially meaningful way.
Several times during the film, I found myself wondering why I was watching certain characters at all, or why some fleetingly cute moment needed to be anything more than a short film released in front of the next Despicable Me or Minions movie. Even with a runtime of barely 80 minutes sans-credits, this film frequently begs the audience to question its own existence.
You can at least see how there were some promising ideas here, however; the overall tenor is much more dew-eyed and sentimental than in the first film, and if the audience cared one iota about the characters, either human or animal, it actually could’ve worked.
Because the “don’t work with animals or babies” filmmaking maxim doesn’t apply to animation, both share the screen here, yet Max’s relationship with Liam feels malnourished, and as a result the emotional beats come off corny and forced, all the way to a most banal and saccharine of endings.
It’s a shame, as a skilled voice cast is thoroughly wasted here. Patton Oswalt is a rock solid substitute for Louis C.K. – and arguably better-suited to the character’s design and personality – but at the end of the day Max is still a fundamentally charmless bore of a protagonist, and outshone by at least a handful of the film’s other livelier characters.
Most eager to steal Max’s limelight is Kevin Hart’s Snowball, who once again tows a fine line between adorable and exasperating – a well-worn Hart staple by this point. It’s fair to say that his rabbit being stuffed into a superhero costume for most of the movie comes across a tad cynical, but an hilarious gag in which he gets ragdolled by a monkey, as is surely a reference to The Hulk slamming Loki in The Avengers, is tough not to laugh at.
By far the most interesting new addition to the roster is Harrison Ford, who plays a grizzled, un-PC old dog who one imagines probably isn’t too far removed from the real Ford himself. Despite the icon’s reputation for being a bit of a wet blanket, he seems to be a fine sport here, playing his part with gusto even if it’s unfortunately curtailed far too early.
Less well-served, however, is Nick Kroll, who voices the film’s human villain, Sergei, the aforementioned malevolent circus owner. The character as presented may as well be a cardboard standee for all of the personality he lends the film; he’s a total non-entity and adds nothing more to the movie than an excuse for a third-act vehicular chase finale that blatantly homages Toy Story (even complete with the heroes desperately riding an RC car in pursuit).
One positive that Illumination deserves measured credit for here is the animation style; many of their previous films have suffered from a garish motion blur effect intended to make character movement look more “realistic”, but for whatever reason that’s been toned down considerably here and for the better.
Given that so few Hollywood animations are being produced at this mid-budget price point – around the $80 million mark – it’s impressive just how good the movie looks for the most part. It lacks the dense artistry of your average Pixar joint, sure, but it’s generally vibrant enough to keep kids and adults alike conscious.
Still, the flip-side of Illumination’s ability to crank out new movies quickly and cheaply (relatively speaking) is that the creativity suffers, and on both a narrative and character level, this film is desperately in search of a soul. It’s tough to hate, but also much harder to like than it should be.
More a series of mildly amusing skits stapled together than an actual narrative feature, The Secret Life of Pets 2 is broad and inoffensive to a fault.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more film rambling.