“The first step of not being afraid is acting like you’re not afraid.”
Rather than leaping through hoops or dancing on its hind legs, this sequel to 2016’s dreadful The Secret Life of Pets has taken the time to try to learn from its past mistakes. This is a slightly smarter, funnier, and more mature movie. And while that’s not saying a whole lot given the unremarkable low bar set by its predecessor, The Secret Life of Pets 2 is one of the very few animated sequels that’s actually better than the first installment. Kids will eat it up and adults will be moderately entertained.
Building off of the same trajectory established in the first film, The Secret Life of Pets 2 follows the Jack Russell Terrier Max (Patton Oswalt) as his life gets turned upside down once more. He still lives with the big and shaggy haired Duke (Eric Stonestreet) under their owner Katie’s (Ellie Kemper) roof, she bumps into Chuck (Pete Holmes) and shortly thereafter they have a baby boy named Liam who takes over the nest. Aversion to the child and a fear of being replaced leads to Max’s new role as a protector, shielding Liam from the dangers of parks and sidewalks. That’s only one third of the story though.
The disjointed approach both hurts and helps The Secret Life of Pets 2. Part of the film is about Gidget (Jenny Slate), a prim Pomeranian, as she tries to blend in with cats to retrieve Max’s favorite toy. Another portion follows the rabbit Snowball (Kevin Hart) and his escapades with the Shih Tzu Daisy (Tiffany Haddish). As for Max, he spends time during a family vacation at a farm, encountering the sheepdog Rooster (Harrison Ford), who together depict the differences between nature and nurture. The three separate storylines dovetail in and out of one another without much purpose or reason, and while it’s a little clumsy, the abrupt shifts assure that no single component overstays its welcome.
There’s as much to praise about The Secret Life of Pets 2 as there is to scrutinize. Kevin Hart’s unrestrained vocal performance nearly drowns out the film, but unlike the first entry, this one cuts away just before he reaches the highest decibels. Patton Oswalt is a preferable fit as the new voice of Max, but a better movie might have found a way to make him a more active piece of the puzzle. The separate threads establish different tones, but the film rushes to tie them together with what proves to be little more than a slipknot. In the end, and like so many of Illumination’s films, The Secret Life of Pets 2 isn’t a bad movie, nor is it a very memorable one.
“You have two choices: run from it or run at it.”
Rating: 2.5 out of 5