In 2016, Illumination made the Toy Story-esque The Secret Life of Pets, a look at the adventures pets get into when their owners are not around. It was mildly amusing, though tonally awkward and overly reliant on action. It earned a lot of money. That means, inevitably, there is now The Secret Life of Pets 2. It has less action and more consistency in its humor, focusing a little more on character than plot, but way, way less story. It feels like three half-finished ideas smashed together into one movie. The result is intermittently fun, however it will probably play better at home where it can be watched in parts, like episodes of a television show.
This sequel consists of three very loosely connected stories without fully formed arcs. In the first one, the owner of Terrier Max and big Duke gets married and has a baby. Max becomes the protector of his new human and his fear of anything bad happening to him is severely tested on a vacation to a farm. In the second story, Max asks Pomeranian Gidget to guard his favorite toy while he is gone, which puts her up against an apartment full of cats. Lastly, rabbit Snowball, now settled down as the best friend to a little girl, believes he is a superhero and tries to help Shih Tzu Daisy save a tiger from a mean circus owner.
The Max story is actually sweet and contributes some nice emotion. It peters out without much of a conclusion. The Gidget subplot is pretty funny and feels the closest to a self-contained short. There are a few very good moments involving her and selfish cat Chloe. It is enjoyably goofy. The third story is the least interesting. It unfortunately swallows up the other two for the climax. Snowball was the breakout star of the original. He is toned down quite a lot here. In the end, his arc is not really even about him, though he does have a handful of decent lines. That section is the most pointless and makes the whole thing drag a bit.
As with many of these animated comedies, the voice actors carry much of the heavy lifting. There are four major newcomers. Patton Oswalt takes over as Max and is suitably likable. Tiffany Haddish is a fitting companion for Snowball as Daisy. Harrison Ford shows up as a gruff sheepdog named Rooster. There is also Nick Kroll as the evil circus owner Sergei. The returnees include Kevin Hart as the larger-than-life Snowball, Jenny Slate as the love-struck Gidget, Eric Stonestreet as Duke and Lake Bell as the narcissistic Chloe. They are all expressive and add to the cuteness. I especially enjoyed the work of Oswalt, Haddish, Slate and Bell.
The Secret Life of Pets 2 (80 minutes without the end credits) is a sequel made for purely commercial reasons. It has no artistic reason for existing. It is occasionally entertaining and kids (particularly fans of the first) will likely have an okay time with it. Yet it barely feels like a feature. There is no clear purpose and the important themes are kind of left hanging by the chaos of the final act. The initial idea remains appealing, but this adds little to it besides another product.
2¾ out of 5
Patton Oswalt as Max
Kevin Hart as Snowball
Jenny Slate as Gidget
Tiffany Haddish as Daisy
Eric Stonestreet as Duke
Lake Bell as Chloe
Harrison Ford as Rooster
Directed by Chris Renaud and Jonathan del Val
Written by Brian Lynch