2.5 out of 5 stars.
Dog photos and cat videos are some of the most popular content on the internet, so it would be difficult for a movie that’s essentially based around bringing these things to life to be unsuccessful. Illumination’s animated feature “The Secret Life of Pets 2” picks up sometime after the events of its 2016 predecessor, in which pampered dog Max goes on a crazy journey around New York City with his owner’s new dog Duke. But while all the pet humor that the film employs is achieved successfully, the thin story leaves a lot to be desired.
“The Secret Life of Pets 2,” which is directed by Chris Renaud and Jonathan de Val, opens with a montage that takes place over several years. Max (voiced by Patton Oswalt, taking over for Louis C.K. from the previous installment) and Duke’s (Eric Stonestreet) owner Katie (Ellie Kemper) meets a guy, gets married, and they have a son, Liam. While Max claims to not like children, he becomes fast friends with Liam, and becomes overly protective of him, to the point where he starts to develop nervous habits. The family takes a trip to the country, where Max meets farm dog Rooster (Harrison Ford, playing Harrison Ford), who teaches Max to let go of his fears and not be afraid to take risks.
That may sound like the main plotline of “The Secret Life of Pets 2,” but it really isn’t. While the first film at least had a cohesive story, this sequel is very scattered. While Max is on the farm, is neighbors back in NYC are on their own journeys, and the movie flips back and forth between them a lot. Gidget (Jenny Slate), the Pomeranian who has a crush on Max, loses his favorite toy that she promised to watch for him while he was gone, and must get it back from the home of a cat lady with the help of her tabby friend Chloe (Lake Bell). Meanwhile, the bunny Snowball (Kevin Hart) now lives with a little girl who dresses him up as a superhero—so he believes he really is a superhero. A Shih Tzu named Daisy (Tiffany Haddish) enlists his help freeing a tiger from the circus and its cruel owner. The film manages to bring these very different stories together in the climax, but just barely. For the majority of this 86 minute movie, it feels like we are watching a lot of little vignettes that may be amusing, but don’t connect.
But while the story may not be up to snuff, “The Secret Life of Pets 2” has plenty of humor. Kids will be amused with the slapstick, while adults will relate to a lot of the pet humor, as well as the film’s subtle message about the joys and struggles of parenting. The movie understands its animal characters, and anyone who has ever owned a pet is sure to find it funny, from Chloe disinterestedly pawing at a doorstopper or hacking up a hairball on her sleeping owner, to Max and Duke getting way too excited to ride in the car.
Illumination’s animation in this movie, like its predecessor, is also top notch. The environments, particularly the film’s rendering of the Manhattan skyline, are stylistic, bright, and colorful. The design of the characters is cute, with a good variety of shapes and sizes, and the animation itself is fast-paced but not overly cartoony. All the animal characters in particularly move and behave in a believable way according to whatever species they are.
“The Secret Life of Pets 2” still doesn’t exactly deliver on what its title promises, and it may be a problem that some of the biggest laughs of the movie occur during a bit that’s shown in the end credits. But it’s a short and funny movie that will keep audiences of all ages entertained, even if it doesn’t show us any new tricks to make it memorable long after viewers have left the theater.
Runtime: 86 minutes. Rated PG.