Cinematic Releases: The Secret Life of Pets 2 (2019) - Reviewed

Illumination’s The Secret Life of Pets (2016) is a strange, charming comedy adventure starring a group of domestic animals in New York City who know one another and hang out together while their humans are away at work, doing human things. It is a cute, clever film, but it isn’t particularly innovative or profound as far as animated movies go; its sequel, The Secret Life of Pets 2, is even stranger than the first – but it retains the elements of sweetness and fun that made the first one such a delight.

Tiny terrier Max (voiced in this sequel by Patton Oswalt, replacing Louis C.K.) and his huge fluffy pal Duke (Eric Stonestreet) return in Pets 2; their human Katie has gotten married and had a son, Liam, whom both dogs adore and want to protect, but while Duke takes a carefree approach to keeping an eye on the toddler, Max becomes fearful and sees danger absolutely everywhere. Meanwhile, street-smart rabbit Snowball (Kevin Hart), now owned by a little girl named Molly, has taken on a superhero alter-ego, and must try to rescue a sweet tiger cub from an abusive Russian circus master with the help of the feisty, brave Daisy (Tiffany Haddish) and the rest of the crew from the original movie. Little Gidget (Jenny Slate) must enlist lazy Chloe (Lake Bell) to discover her inner cat so that she can rescue Max’s favorite toy from a houseful of felines while he and Duke are visiting a family farm with their humans, and she has pledged to guard it with her life. The three stories converge in a decidedly weird way, but it somehow works – because the secret world of pets is, really, just a very goofy place where anything can happen and animals find their own quirky solutions to their problems.

The Secret Life of Pets 2 is another one of those animated sequels which really doesn’t say much about its characters or its world that wasn’t already established in the original film, and it feels a bit like an episode of an ongoing series rather than its own unique journey. But its animal stars are still as funny and appealing as they were before, and new characters add some fresh fun to the mix – particularly the spunky little Daisy, whom Haddish voices with vigor and sass, and old farm dog Rooster, voiced by Harrison Ford with a world-weary, distant tough love that helps Max learn that he is capable of taking on the world – at least, at ankle-level. Mostly, the film is a silly romp through some very unusual situations, but if there’s a lesson to be learned here, it’s hidden in the fluff. Of course, not every film, animated or otherwise, necessarily has to impart wisdom or teach us something, but they should at least tell a good story – and, while there is a lot to love about The Secret Life of Pets 2, its various plotlines really don’t end up making a lot of sense, particularly when they converge. There are a lot of questions the audience has to suspend to really immerse itself in the action – and “well, it’s a cartoon” only stretches so far, even in a setting that isn’t supposed to be completely realistic.

Still, this is a solidly adorable family film, and children especially will love it. There are a lot of genuinely funny scenes, particularly those featuring Gidget and Chloe (especially when she’s high on catnip). Anyone who is a fan of the original Secret Life of Pets will find their favorite characters just as wonderful as they were three years ago, even if the sequel carries a bit more “WTF” than “wow”. In the end, these movies are as warm and fuzzy as their protagonists, and as ever, you’ll leave the theater wanting to go home and cuddle your furry friends.

-Dana Culling