The Secret Life of Pets 2
2019, PG, 86 min. Directed by Chris Renaud. Voices by Patton Oswalt, Kevin Hart, Jenny Slate, Eric Stonestreet, Tiffany Haddish, Ellie Kemper, Lake Bell, Harrison Ford.
REVIEWED By Richard Whittaker, Fri., June 7, 2019
Like a dog to a bone, Hollywood loves a good sequel. 2016's talking creature animation The Secret Life of Pets was a dog's-eye view of life in NYC, as friendly canines Max the terrier and Duke the fuzzy mutt try to get home. As an unexpected global box office smash, a sequel was inevitable, even if the studio had to work around the awkwardness of having Louis C.K. as the voice of Max. However, he's out, replaced by Patton Oswalt as a nervier version of the adorable four-legged protagonist. He has good reason to be more stressed, as he's now the protector of a young boy called Liam, and that's a big change for a dog.
Everything else has stayed the same: Duke (Stonestreet) is still an adorable bundle of fun, fluffy Gidget (Slate) still has her crush on Max, Snowball the rabbit (Hart) is enjoying his life as an indoor bunny, and Chloe the cat (Bell) still regards the world with disaffected disinterest and archetypal feline archness. Unfortunately, the script by Minions writer Brian Lynch does everything possible to keep them apart, funneling all the main leads off into separate adventures that barely tie together in the final act. Max and Duke go off to the farm (not like that) and have to contend with rugged old Rooster (Ford), the no-nonsense Welsh sheepdog who has no time for their urban neuroses. Max asks Gidget to look after his favorite toy while he's away, which she immediately loses in an apartment full of cats. At the same time, Snowball, under his crime-fighting superhero guise of Captain Snowball, is convinced by a shih tzu called Daisy (Haddish) to rescue a tiger cub from an evil circus owner.
If that all sounds tonally disjointed, that's because it is. Rather than building to a full, fun film, each subplot seems like the pilot to a spin-off animated TV show. No film has felt so desperate to make the jump to the small screen since the best-forgotten Barnyard: The Original Party Animals, but then The Secret Life of Pets 2 never disguises what it is. Aimed squarely at the under-10s, its combination of cute critters and kinetic gags are sure to please the kids. Oswalt's expositional voiceover is there just to give the adults in the audience something to hang on to – although considering that one of his best known stand-up routines is about the existential horror of being a dog owner in New York, he may not have been the best pick for a cartoon that's so built on doggy snuggles and cotton-candy giggles.