The Secret Life of Pets 2 falls short of the original, but still has kinetic energy about it and delivers some solid laughs despite its faults — like the lack of any real plot.
The Secret Life of Pets was my favorite animated film of 2016. I had so much fun with it I managed to slip it into the last slot on my 2016 Top Ten List. Yes, it gave some huge healthy helpings of sentimentality that I let pull my heartstrings and that had me fall in love with Eric Stonestreet’s large, brown, shaggy Newfoundland mix named Duke. There is nothing like the sight of a big dog not knowing he is a lap dog but going for the landing anyway. Very rarely do sequels top their predecessors, with the Toy Story series being one of the few that had gotten better with every installment. While the first Pets found a nice story and even an engaging plot, the sequel doesn’t quite hit that mark. The Secret Life of Pets 2 doesn’t borrow as much as it steals from decades-old films like City Slickers, Babe: Pig in the City, and is almost like an episode of Seinfeld because it’s really about nothing. It is void of plot almost entirely, which is not to say it’s a bad thing.
The basic premise of The Secret Life of Pets 2 separates into three parts; you have our favorite Jack Russell Terrier Max (now voiced by comedian Patton Oswald, replacing Louis CK, who obviously couldn’t helm a family picture at this point) and Duke (Modern Family’s Eric Stonestreet) taking a trip to the country. They meet a Welsh Sheep Dog named Rooster (Harrison Ford, brooding as ever). Our favorite snappy White Rabbit Snowball (Kevin Hart) is back and teams up with a fancy Shih Tzu (Tiffany Haddish) who can hold her own. They attempt to rescue White Tiger that is being abused in a circus by a trainer who looks like the evil twin of Dracula from the animated film Transylvania, named Sergei (Nick Kroll). Finally, the world’s most adorable Pomeranian named Gidget is being taught how to walk and act like a cat by a portly, apathetic cat named Tabby Cat (Bless this Mess’s Lake Bell).
Of all the storylines, my favorite was the interactions between Jenny Slate’s Gidget and Bell’s Tabby Cat; in particular, Jenny Slate is trying to infiltrate an old cat lady’s apartment trying to retrieve Max’s favorite toy. I found the other two storylines blatant rip-offs of older, classic films that they felt were lifted because no one is going to remember films from 30 years previously. Harrison Ford’s Rooster is a cartoon knockoff of Jack Palance’s Curly from City Slickers. Patton Oswalt’s persona as a depressed, neurotic comedian suits him well for this film, but it is almost a mirror image of Crystal’s Mitch in the same comedy, where Curly teaches him how to live his life. The Hart and Haddish adventures throughout the city at night is very similar to Babe: Pig in the City.
I watched director Chris Renaud’s sequel in a non-3D format, so I think they left the plot at the door and decided to let the more expensive format do the talking for them. The good news is you really do not have to watch any three-dimensional glory. The animation is still beautiful by Illumination Entertainment. The film, I must admit, has a certain kinetic energy that keeps the pace moving. You could almost call it an animated film about nothing when all three separate storylines meet at the end.
Being a Pixar man myself (I’m hoping that I’m the first person to ever coin that phrase), I always find most animated films outside that studio don’t live up to their classic filmography. What separates that studio from the rest is the attention to detail they put into the animation plots and scripts. Most other studios, like DreamWorks or Illumination, have a franchise that is more like the follow-up to Pixar’s Cars than, say, Toy Story. That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a film like The Secret Life of Pets 2 for what it is: a family film that has some solids laughs, cute animated pets, and enough energy to keep parents (or big kids like myself) entertained throughout its 90 minutes.
M.N. Miller has been a film and television writer for Ready Steady Cut since August of 2018 and is patiently waiting for the next Pearl Jam album to come out.