There’s simply not much to “The Secret Life of Pets 2,” a mostly uninspired, shallow sequel to Illumination’s 2016 animated hit. It’s not a bad movie per se, but most of what made the first installment so charming is missing this second go around.
Loyal companion terrier Max (Patton Oswalt) and his lovable canine friend Duke (Eric Stonestreet) are coping with some major life changes after their person gets married and has a baby. With the toddler growing up before his very eyes, Max develops a severe case of anxiety as he feels he must protect his new little buddy at all costs. When the family takes a summertime trip to visit an uncle’s farm, Max gets some life-changing advice from gruff farm dog Rooster (Harrison Ford) that just may help regain his confidence.
The plot is tied together in a series of three story lines, the best being spoiled dog Gidget’s (Jenny Slate) attempts to save Max’s beloved ball from an army of crazed cats by becoming one herself, and the worst one that focuses on superhero rabbit Captain Snowball (Kevin Hart) and his new pal Daisy (Tiffany Haddish) saving a caged tiger from an evil circus. The multiple narratives constantly jump around to keep kids and adults interested, and it makes the film feels like it’s fast-paced. In the end, the pets all come together in one of the strangest, most abrupt finales ever.
The voice talent ranges from great, to good enough, to “please god, I’d rather listen to fingernails on a chalkboard” bad. Haddish is enjoyable enough in live action films, but her voice is not one that’s made for animation. She sticks out like a sore thumb here, and it’s distracting. Even worse are the failed sight gags, unfunny one-liners, lazy poop jokes, and some really dumb story elements like an imprisoned tiger going to live with a crazy cat lady in her tiny New York apartment. Suspension of disbelief is one thing, but completely nonsensical situations are another.
The film is rated PG for some very mild rude language (“pissed,” “rat turd”), action violence (there’s a scene with a gun and knives), and a couple of scary situations with villainous wolves attacking an animal and a tiger cub being chained up and mistreated. Parents with sensitive children may want to prescreen this one before hauling the kiddos to the theater.
What the film gets right is the bright and colorful animation. It’s well done with a fantastic attention to even the most minute visual details. This isn’t a hyper-realistic style, but it works perfectly with the material. Those who share their lives with a companion animal will find much enjoyment in the many references to typical pet behavior (I have cats, and I snorted my way through a handful of kitty-centric scenes).
Sometimes you should just enjoy a movie for what it is, even if you must lower your expectations. “The Secret Life of Pets 2” delights in the familiar, and is the perfect outing for those seeking a not-too-challenging family-friendly adventure.