The Secret Life of Pets 2 (2019) Review
A FUN, YET DISJOINTED ANIMATED SEQUEL
Back in 2016, Illumination Entertainment released The Secret Life of Pets, an animated feature film that sparked the idea of what animal pets do when their “owners” aren’t around. The movie, which was directed by Chris Renaud and featured the voice talents of Louis C.K., Eric Stonestreet, Jenny Slate, Kevin Hart, and several others, centered around Max, a Jack Russell Terrier whose sublime pet life gets turned upside down when his owner brings home a loud and disruptive new dog (a large, brown, shaggy, and Newfoundland mix) named Duke as the newest member of their household. Together, both Max and Duke quarrel and try to understand each other as they deal with Snowball, a white bunny, who is building an army of lost pets. In a nutshell, The Secret Life of Pets was met with rousing success, garnishing positive reviews from critics and moviegoers, while making a large splash at the box office (roughly $875 million) worldwide. Now, three years later, Illumination Entertainment (as well as Universal Pictures) and director Chris Renaud present a follow-up sequel adventure with the movie The Secret Life of Pets 2. Does this next chapter find the same heart and humor within its animated tale or is it a disjointed endeavor that’s a far cry from its original film?
Continuing to live in the bustling city life of NYC, Max (Patton Oswalt) is living comfortable and happy life with his owner, Katie (Ellie Kemper) and his other dog buddy companion, Duke (Eric Stonestreet). However, Katie soon meets Chuck (Pete Holmes), with the two falling in love, getting married, and soon giving birth to their son, Liam. Curious about the new addition to the family, Max takes some time to warm up to Liam, eventually growing to love the baby, doing whatever he can to protect the child from harm. When the family decides to visit Chuck’s relatives on their farm for a weekend getaway, Max and Duke get a somewhat of a rural culture shock of trying to find their footing in this landscape. Once there, Max meets Rooster (Harrison Ford), a sheepdog who doesn’t understand why the timid city dog is so obsessed with stifling Liam’s curiosity. While Rooster shows Max the ways of gain a more daring / courageous backbone, Gidget (Jenny Slate), Max’s white Pomeranian neighbor, looks after Max’s Busy Bee toy for safe keeping, and she promptly loses the rubber ball inside a cat infested apartment, turning to cat pal, Chole (Lake Bell), for feline lessons, allowing her to go undercover to retrieve Max’s favorite toy. Elsewhere, a Shih Tzu dog named Daisy (Tiffany Haddish) seeks the help from the bunny Snowball (Kevin Hart) and his alter ego superhero counterpart when she witnesses a white tiger kidnapping committed by Sergei (Nick Kroll, a villainous circus owner.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
As you might have guessed (from my past reviews on my blog), I’ve always been a fan of animated movies. While some have been definitely better than others, the endeavors I’ve seeing (over the years) have been admirable, with plenty of cartoonish shenanigans, colorful animation, and the usage of talented / recognizable actors and actresses to play the various characters in the tales. So, you can imagine I was curious to see The Secret Life of Pets when it initial came out back in 2016. Of course, the feature’s promo trailers and marketing, were good and made me want to see the movie as well as the movie being produced by Illumination Entertainment (the company behind the Despicable Me films). In my own personal nutshell, I really quite enjoyed the movie. Yes, I agree that the movie’s narrative / setup was definitely familiar to Toy Story (i.e. Max to Woody and Duke to Buzz Lightyear), but the film was entertaining enough to overlook that criticism, especially thanks to the feature’s usage of voice talents. To me, I loved actor Kevin Hart playing the voice of Snowball. In the end, The Secret Life of Pets was a win for Illumination Entertainment and provided that the animation studio was able to cultivate something new that didn’t involve Gru, Margo, Edith, Agnes, and the nonsensical angst of the minions.
Now, it’s time to talk about The Secret Life of Pets 2, a 2019 animated sequel to the original 2016 endeavor. Given how the first Secret Life of Pets shaped up to be (and how it ended), it was safe to assume that Illumination Entertainment would (sometime soon) revisit the lives of Max, Duke, Gidget, Snowball, and the rest of Pets gang in the near future. While The Secret Life of Pets 2 was officially greenlit all the way back in 2016, the movie was delayed, pushing back its summer 2018 release date to summer 2019. To me, I think was due to Illumination releasing several of its others projects…. most notably Despicable Me 3, which had a release date of summer 2018 as well. So, the wait for the next Pets movie was prolonged, but the film’s movie trailers and TV spots kept me interested in seeing this next installment until the feature’s theatrical release date. The film’s “character” movie trailers (more focusing on a particular character animal pet) were interesting, but didn’t reveal much about the movie itself…. that was until the final movie trailer. So, I finally did see The Secret Life of Pets 2 during its opening weekend, but doing my review for the animated sequel sort of fell through the cracks; choosing to be other reviews before this one. Now, I finally have free time to doing my review for The Secret Life of Pets 2….and what did I think of it? Well, despite the solid animation, talented voice cast, and cute animal shenanigans, The Secret Life of Pets 2 comes up short with an episodic storytelling narrative that never really pans out, missing out on several more poignant plot moments that are actually better than the main plot of the feature. There’s definitely some fun to this movie, but the film itself ends up being more of a disjointed endeavor than a wholesome one.
Returning to the director’s chair is Chris Renaud, who previous directed The Secret Life of Pets as well as other animated films like Despicable Me (and its 2013 sequel) and The Lorax. Given his familiarity with both working on children’s animated features as well as working with Illumination Entertainment, Renaud seems like a perfect suitable choice for helming Pets 2. In that regard, Renaud succeeds as he approaches this sequel with a sense of lighthearted qualities and animated mischief for the various animal pets that Max and his friends get into throughout the course of the movie. Renaud also makes the feature fun, with plenty of comedic charm, zippy one-liners, and humorous scenarios that made the first film quite visually entertaining, utilizing his past knowledge of focusing on certain characters (i.e. Max, Snowball, and Gidget) in Pet’s 2 story. Speaking of which, the story of Pets 2 harkens back to some classic themes, especially when examining the story of Max, which speaks to living in fear and the concerned individual who’s in constant fear rather than living life. All in all, Renaud certain makes Pets 2 an enjoyable endeavor on his part and makes the feature’s light and cutesy animals a joy to watch on-screen.
Animation-wise, Pets 2 is quite impressive, with the feature’s animation bright and colorful, giving its theatrical presentation a very well-liked viewing experience. Of course, the animation style is slightly different from other animation studios endeavors (i.e. Disney, Pixar, DreamWorks, etc.), but that’s not to say that its quite beautiful and stylish; finding Illumination Entertainment’s animation quite exquisite, with Pets 2 certainly showcasing the “best” animation that the studio has to offer (at this point of time). Thus, I really do have mention the entire animation team (from storyboard concept drawings to computer animators) for their work on this project. Despite what many might think of this movie (for better or worse), the film’s animation is top notch. It’s not the absolute best, but it’s definitely a cut above from what I’ve seeing in several recent animated features. Additionally, in the technical categories, the film’s score, which was done by Alexandre Desplat, is quite good (as children’s animated movie scores go) and certainly does provide enough musical nuances (be it energetic, comical, or heartfelt) to each particular scene.
Unfortunately, Pets 2 can’t surpass nor match up with original film, falling short of the goal and ends up with some problematic areas the feature can’t circumnavigate through. The biggest and most glaring problem that the movie presents is within the actually story being told. Pets 2 definitely has something to say within its narrative, but doesn’t exactly know what type of storyline it wants to follow. The film’s script, which was penned by Brian Lynch (who penned the script for the first Pets movie as well), has three distinct storyline narrative threads that ultimately proves to be problematic in its undertaking and (by extension) in the feature’s execution. Why? Well, Max’s storyline (let’s call it Story A) is probably the strongest and somewhat main thread of Pets 2, which is correct as he is the main protagonist throughout. Next, Snowball and Daisy’s storyline (I’m calling it Story B) also plays throughout the movie and becomes more of spotlight storyline in the third act, while Gidget and Chloe storyline (Story C) plays up more for laughs and filler time between Story A and B. The main problem is that these storyline threads feel underdeveloped and could’ve been easily expanded upon if the film’s runtime was a bit longer (more on that below). Even still, removing one of the storyline threads (most notably Story C) would’ve been beneficial to the feature’s appeal and entertainment value. Because of this, Pets 2 feels quite disjointed and confusing within its narrative stance and feels more like an episodic journey rather than a wholesome endeavor. Heck, Max’s storyline (Story A) easily could’ve been an entire movie and really wished it was.
Adhering to that large criticism, Pets 2 story doesn’t feel very much original, playing it safe in several various scenarios that offer up plenty of amusing (sometimes hilarious) sequences about animals or just simply humorous shenanigans, but nothing about the feature’s narrative feels quite original or creatively done. In truth, the film feels very predictable…. even for a kid’s movie. Additionally, Pets 2’s runtime, which is only 86 minutes long, is relatively short with the “unbalanced” nature of the film come across throughout the feature’s story, shortchanging particular scenes and characters, which (again) causes the movie to give off a more episodic feeling throughout. Perhaps Pets 2’s story / plot would’ve worked better as a TV show (a Secret Life of Pets TV show wouldn’t be such a bad idea), but as a full-length feature film….it just feels like a cobble up endeavor of shorter stories put together in a messy way.
While those criticism remarks are definitely a glaring weakness of the movie, the cast of Pets 2 is perhaps the true highlight of the film, with many of the voice talents of the first Pets reprising their roles as well as new additions. Much like before, the film’s true main character (i.e. Max) takes center stage for this movie, with comedic actor Patton Oswalt voicing the protagonist Jack Russell Terrier. While actor Louis C.K. (Louie and Lucky Louie) provided the vocals for Max in the first Pets movie, he was replaced (mostly due to the sexual allegations made against him) in Pets 2 with Oswalt, known for his roles in Ratatouille, The Goldbergs, and The Circle, brings his own voices to Max, but still making him heartwarming and friendly like Louis did before. Personally, I think both C.K. and Oswalt give Max very distinct voices, especially because the film’s narratives are particular different in each one. So, Oswalt’s voice of Max certainly does feel appropriate for Pets 2, utilizing Oswalt’s nervous sounding voice in making the character feel the same as the story wants him to be. In the end, I do love Oswalt’s Max and he certainly does give Max a new voice that’s both different and familiar at the same time.
Sadly, while the character of Duke, who is voiced by actor Eric Stonestreet (Almost Famous and Modern Family) gets somewhat “downgraded” in Pets 2. He’s still quite present in the movie as Max’s loud and scruffy Newfoundland mix canine companion buddy / friend who lives with him, but his involvement in this sequel is more for continuity purposes; offering up some commentary dialogue talks with Max (and others) …. almost like a supporting player instead of main one like in the first Pets movie.
In larger supporting roles, Pets 2 sees the characters of Gidget and Chloe getting their own storyline and providing enough animated mischief fun to bring their narrative thread some quite amusing laughs…. even though it’s probably the weakest storyline of the feature. Naturally, the voice talents of actresses Jenny Slate (Zootopia and Gifted) and Lake Bell (It’s Complicated and No Strings Attached) make up for these shortcomings, bringing the character of Gidget and Chloe and do offer some comical nuances in their vocal works. Additionally, comedian actor Kevin Hart (Central Intelligence and Ride Along) provides enough zany angst and goofy cartoon tomfoolery with his character of Snowball, which offers up in some amusing one-liners and scenarios for the cute little white bunny to get caught up in.
Of the several newcomers, the character of Rooster, a Welsh sheepdog that intimidates Max and shows him a different way seeing his surroundings, is the hilarious surprise and spotlight hit of the movie. Voiced by actor Harrison Ford (Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark and Star Wars: The Force Awakens), Rooster certainly brings the gravitas and no-nonsense bravado the Ford’s gruff sounding voice can bring and is quite an interesting and amusing character. The problem? Unfortunately, Rooster is only featured in part of Max’s storyline, which is really a shame as I mentioned above that Max’s storyline is perhaps the strongest narrative thread in all of Pets 2. Hopefully, we get to see Ford’s Rooster again if another Pets sequel is greenlit. Behind Ford, comedic actress Tiffany Haddish (Girls Trip and The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part) comes close as another scene stealer in her character of Daisy, a shih tzu dog that’s featured in Snowball’s storyline. While the character isn’t exactly fresh or new or anything like that, Haddish certainly makes the character work with her vocals bringing Daisy to life in a fun way. In a nutshell, much like Hart in voicing Snowball, Haddish’s voice is perfectly matched with her character of Daisy. Lastly, much like what I said above, the film’s antagonist character of Sergei, the villainous circus owner and who is voiced by actor Nick Kroll (Sing and The League), doesn’t make much screen-time to make his character quite pronounced as much as the script wants him to be. Of course, Kroll’s voice is perfectly fine as Sergei, but the character is rather one-dimensional and quite forgettable.
The rest of talents, including actress Elle Kemper (Bridesmaids and 21 Jump Street) as Max and Duke’s owner Katie, actor Pete Holmes (Fantasy Hospital and Crashing) as Katie’s recent new husband Chuck, actor Hannibal Buress (Tag and Broad City) as the laidback dachshund Buddy, actor Bobby Moynihan (Sisters and Saturday Night Live) as the hyperactive pug Mel, actor Dana Carvey (Wayne’s World and The Master of Disguise) as the half crippled elder basset hound Pops, actress Tara Strong (The Fairly Oddparents and Teen Titans) as the bird Sweetpea, and Chris Renaud himself in reprising the role of the guinea pig Norman as well as his daughter (Kiely Renaud) who provides the voice for Snowball’s owner Molly, are delegated to being, more or less, supporting roles in the movie. While these acting talents are (collectively) good as minor characters, I was kind of expecting a bit more screen-time for some of these characters, which is disappointing.
The “pets” are back and ready cause mischief and do heroics efforts in the animated film The Secret Life of Pets 2. Director Chris Renaud latest film projects sees the return of the entire gang (i.e. Max, Duke, Snowball, and Gidget, etc.) as well as a few new ones in another crazy and animated adventure for the whole family. While the film’s fragmented narrative and weak plot disrupts the story’s flow, the movie is still very much lighthearted, humorous, and colorful (within animation styles and various characters) as well as the talents behind the animal voices. To me, this movie somewhere good and okay. Yes, the movie was cute and definitely had its moments of comedy humor within its various animal character, but I can’t overlook how disjointed the plot is and how episodic everything plays out. Still, its target audience will mostly likely enjoy this sequel. Thus, my recommendation for this movie is both an “iffy choice” as well as a “rent it” as it really doesn’t demand a viewing in theaters and best left to viewing at a person’s home leisure. It’s undoubtedly that Illumination Entertainment will (most likely) create a Secret Life of Pets 3 in the foreseeable future as there are many avenues that the franchise could take in another entry. However, after seeing how The Secret Life of Pets 2 plays out, let’s hope that the potential third installment has more substance within its tale and corrects the mistakes made in this particular movie.
3.2 Out of 5 (Iffy-Choice / Rent It)
Released On: June 7th, 2019
Reviewed On: July 7th, 2019
The Secret Life of Pets 2 is 86 minutes long and is rated PG for some action and rude humor