Secret Life of Pets 2 regurgitates comic hairballs

Movie review: The Secret Life of Pets 2

Like its predecessor, The Secret Life of Pets 2 proves the people at Illumination Animation pay attention to animal behaviour. So if this collection feels more like a random string of events pulled from strange places, we can find a way to forgive the mess, and love it anyway.

The Secret Life of Pets 2

3/5

Featuring the voices of: Patton Oswalt, Lake Bell, Harrison Ford, Tiffany Haddish, Kevin Hart, Jenny Slate

Directed by: Chris Renaud, Jonathan del Val

Running time: 2 hrs 6 mins

Rating: Parental Guidance

Opens wide June 7, 2019

By Katherine Monk

I guess you have to remember they’re pets, after all. Their lives aren’t laced together through long-form narratives that define their present in relation to the past. It’s more like a series of random vignettes revolving around food and anal odorama. So give The Secret Life of Pets 2 a little slack on the leash, because this puppy wanders in all different directions.

Essentially a sequel to the charming first film that introduced us to Max, a big city dog living with a sweet single human, Secret Life of Pets 2 keeps the focus on Max — a somewhat neurotic Jack Russell-like creature who worries a lot. In the first movie, Max had to learn to share his house with another dog, Duke.

This time, he has to share his human with a significant other. Katie (Ellie Kemper) falls in love, gets married and before long, Max is watching an infant undo his years of careful human training.

So, at this point, most of us would be thinking: Okay, the dilemma in this movie is dogs and babies competing for attention. Makes sense, and it’s completely believable as most young couples with a dog and a baby discover new layers of guilt about loyalty and abandonment every time they leave the house.

Certainly, you get the feeling that’s where returning screenwriter Brian Lynch was going when he started typing. He reintroduces us to Max and his animal friends, sketches out the silhouette of the emotional conflict, then uncorks all the fizzy little disses of animal behaviour.

Imagine, for instance, the comic gold to be found in a cat’s litter box or the overflowing comic potential of a dog wearing an anti-scratch cone. It’s stuff pet owners giggle about daily, and it’s where the first film really shone because it remained grounded in observational humour.

Like Max, this new movie seems a little unsure of itself — or its direction — and starts sniffing up every tree. First we get the story about Max and Liam, then the dogs have to adapt to country life on a farm, then there’s a whole rescue saga featuring a white tiger cub and an evil Russian circus owner named Sergei.

Like Max, this new movie seems a little unsure of itself — or its direction — and starts sniffing up every tree.

It’s the last of these set-ups that feels entirely gratuitous — not only because we already had enough content with the actual house pets, but because they’ve scored every tiger scene with faintly Asian music and named the baby cat Hu (Lao hu means tiger in Mandarin). Not to say that tigers haven’t been found in New York City, but the plot line comes with so many different problems — from the cruelty of exotic animal trading, to poaching and extinction — that it’s hard to imagine any hope for a happy ending.

Perhaps it’s putting too much on the shoulders of an animated piece of children’s entertainment, but you expect to see responsible pet ownership — not something that could potentially endanger a friend. For instance, showing a cat emerging from a dishwasher as though it were a spa is a creative idea, but disconcerting when you imagine a child might think kitty likes the Maytag.

I know, I know, it’s just a movie. And the dishwasher is just one of several hyperbolic scenarios to keep us in cartoonland, but these goofy and outlandish ideas aren’t what made The Secret Life of Pets such a winner in the first place.

What made that first film so fun was how it gently poked fun at all the things we recognize in our animal friends — cats falling off couches and pretending that was their intent all along, dogs sticking their heads out the window of a car, and an open field of fart and poop jokes for all to step in.

The wacky rabbit voiced by Kevin Hart was where the movie got lost in Toontown, but the zaniness was tolerable because the rest of the film was grounded in feelings we understood. Hart returns, as does Jenny Slate as Gidget, Lake Bell as Chloe and Hannibal Buress as Buddy. Louis C.K., however, is gone as the voice of Max — replaced by the far less controversial and frequently much funnier, Patton Oswalt.

Oswalt is solid, and honestly indistinguishable, from the previous incarnation. He brings a nascent, cuddly sweetness to Max — which mingles nicely with the gruff, alpha growl of Harrison Ford as the farm dog, Rooster.

Oswalt is solid, and honestly indistinguishable, from the previous incarnation. He brings a nascent, cuddly sweetness to Max — which mingles nicely with the gruff, alpha growl of Harrison Ford as the farm dog, Rooster.

The vocal talents are so good, the only things you really wish for through The Secret Life of Pets 2 are better lines, a few more sight gags featuring cats and laser pointers — and maybe a little less Hart. A screaming rabbit get old fast, but an emotionally complex dog struggling to find his happy place in a crowded universe always hits home.

@katherinemonk

Read the review of the first film: Peeved Pets Avoid Animated Irritations.
THE EX-PRESS, June 7, 2019

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Review: The Secret Life of Pets 2

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Like its predecessor, The Secret Life of Pets 2 proves the people at Illumination Animation pay attention to animal behaviour. So if this collection feels more like a random string of events pulled from strange places, we can find a way to forgive the mess, and love it anyway. - Katherine Monk

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