FILM REVIEW – THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS 2. With the voices of Patton Oswalt, Kevin Hart, Harrison Ford, Jenny Slate, Eric Stonestreet. Written by Brian Lynch. Directed by Chris Renaud, Jonathan del Val. Rated PG for some action and rude humor. 86 minutes.
THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS 2 should please kids and their families, but seems a bit of a step back for Illumination, the animation studio that’s given us “Despicable Me” (not to mention its iconic characters known as Minions) and “Sing.” At their best, the studio’s signature has been flashes of surreal humor, such as the dream sequence at a sausage factory in the first movie. In this sequel, the three storylines are more conventionally cartoonish.
Max (voiced by Patton Oswalt, replacing Louis C. K.) has made his peace with sharing his home with the lumbering Duke (Eric Stonestreet), but now has to contend with the fact that his human owners have become parents of a human baby. The family vacations out in the country, where Max meets Rooster (Harrison Ford), a farm dog of few words. The comically nervous Max comes under Rooster’s tutelage.
Meanwhile he has entrusted a favorite toy with Gidget (Jenny Slate), which has accidentally bounced into the apartment of the local cat lady, requiring the dog to go undercover as a cat to try and retrieve it. And Snowball (Kevin Hart) is on a mission to rescue a baby tiger from a cruel circus owner. The three stories don’t really relate to each other, making it seem like it three different shorts that have been edited together.
Youngsters won’t mind the narrative problems, nor that what made the first film fun – learning the interior lives of pets when their owners aren’t home – seems perfunctory here. Still the animation is up to Illumination’s usual standard, and there’s enough comedy and action to keep older viewers accompanying the kids engaged during the film’s 86-minute running time.
Jenny Slate, Kevin Hart, and Eric Stonestreet return in voicing their characters, but it’s the two newcomers who merit attention. Oswalt slips into the role of Max so easily that you’d have to watch the first film again to remember he wasn’t in it. He’s got the perfect comic timing and tone for the part. Even more notable is the presence of Harrison Ford, with the veteran actor making his animation debut. His Rooster is an old hand – or perhaps old paw – at farm life, taking everything in stride while it’s all new to Max. What might have made the story more interesting is if the situation was then reversed, with Rooster ill-at-ease in Max’s New York City.
Like too many animated sequels, the need to cash in on a hit seems to have been a greater motivating factor than having a new story to tell. Rival Pixar has fallen into the same sequel trap with the great exception being their “Toy Story” series. The upcoming fourth installment of that franchise will demonstrate whether they can keep it going or it’s a cartoon too far.
Meanwhile, “The Secret Life of Pets 2” is a fun entry for the younger set that may fall short of the original but manages to work on its own. ***
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel, Father of the Bride of Frankenstein, has just been released. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.