Max and company return for more irreverent, chaotic antics behind their owners backs, in this mediocre sequel to 2015’s The Secret Life of Pets.
The result is a dull 92 minutes consisting of three jarring, phoned in plotlines, culminating in an underwhelming finale.
While the #animation remains admittedly tight, the film lacks the emotional investment of a children’s classic, failing to match even the small level of depth offered by its predecessor. The Secret Life of Pets 2 is undoubtedly a cash grab #sequel.
This is no labour of love, made clear by a stock storyline, lame jokes, and a disparate tone, which clunkily tries to deliver a heartfelt message whilst revelling in its own weirdness. Without a witty script, it’s unfortunately all bark and no bite.
The plot picks up via montage, a few years after the conclusion of the first film, with Max, now voiced by Patton Oswalt, and a completely plot irrelevant Duke (Eric Stonestreet), enjoying life as adopted brothers. Their peace is disrupted by the introduction of their owner’s baby, Lewis, who Max quickly becomes obsessively protective of. Max’s character arc (and the only arc in the entire film, mind) revolves around finding the bravery to let little Lewis find his own way. Concurrently, Snowball (Kevin Hart) becomes a (sigh) superhero rabbit, teaming up with newcomer pup Daisy (Tiffany Haddish) to rescue a tiger from an evil circus owner. Finally, we follow fan favourite Gidget (Jenny Slate) who, despite their declaration of love in the prior film’s conclusion, doesn’t seem to be ‘with’ Max? She learns ‘the way of the cat’ in order to recover a chew toy from an army of felines. Phew.
There’s a lot going on with this plot, and to say the different storylines lack synergy is an understatement: it’s like watching three different movies. The stuff with Max and a bafflingly cast Harrison Ford as Rooster, an old sheep dog is the strongest, but even that struggles to deliver both effective drama and comedy. The film leans more into its comedic roots rather than crafting an emotionally engaging story, which would be fine if the jokes landed on their feet. They alternate between tedious pop culture references and slapstick physical comedy; smart, witty humour and the amusing commentary on animal life from the first film is few and far between.
That said, the cast is, of course, filled with some very funny people. The vocal performance of Jenny Slate, as the deliriously hyperactive Gidget, is hilarious; it’s just a shame she isn’t working with a strong script. Patton Oswalt slips nicely into the role of Max, making him whiney enough for a somewhat convincing arc, yet still likeable enough to root for. Kevin Hart plays Kevin Hart, and Tiffany Haddish’s take on Daisy comes across as lazy and phoned in. Similarly, Harrison Ford (amazingly in his first animated role) is just here, and ultimately delivers a whimper of a performance, not the impressive howl you might expect.
Technically, however, The Secret Life of Pets 2 largely puts the work in. The animation is bright and colourful, with stylised characters that pop against generic set pieces. Carrying over from the first film, the movements are distinct, and the individual quirks of the animals are surprisingly nailed. The soundtrack is also mostly successful, though again, it’s a bit disparate. Some tracks seem spy thriller inspired, though seemingly for little reason. Even more inexplicably, John William’s Superman score appears for a short, unfunny throwaway joke, in perhaps the most mind-blowing moment of the whole picture. The editing is fast and frantic, matching the chaotic action on screen, but it feels a bit underwhelming, and the multiple slow-motion moments in the ‘epic’ scenes are misguided and outdated.
Unfortunately, a weak script drags down what had the potential to be a trivial, but enjoyably silly flick, like its predecessor. Though vibrant, pretty and fast paced, there is little here that’ll entertain anyone bar the youngest viewers, who might appreciate the slapstick. While not damaging or offensive, the film is painfully mediocre. The Secret Life of Pets 2 lacks the abstractions that make a great film; it has no heart, soul, or love put into it. Bring your own eye-masks, as parents will likely be asleep by the twenty-minute mark. This is one pet to banish to the garden.