If you have been following this blog you know I am not a huge fan of Illumination Studios. In particular their popular yellow gibberish talkers, the Minions, drive me bonkers. Occasionally they will give us a break from our yellow tick-tacks with a Sing or The Secret Life of Pets– my 2 favorite from the studio most of their offerings are mediocre at best. Pets is particularly memorable for me because it was the first time I went on Rotoscopers podcast and it helped inspire me to podcast more. Now we have The Secret Life of Pets 2 and to my surprise I really enjoyed it!
One of the challenges of these films is how many characters they establish. It almost necessitates a Toy Storyish plot where they can all contribute little bits to the journey. This makes a sequel even more difficult because do you do more of the same or try to come up with something different? I know many were scared from the trailer The Secret Life of Pets 2 would end up being a copy of Toy Story 2, but that is not the case.
Instead they divide up our team into 3 smaller stories with a vague theme tying them together (almost like a package film or TV series). It definitely has an episodic feel and will do very well when aired on television, but I didn’t mind it. I can see how some will want a more over-all plot but each part was strong enough (particularly 2 out of 3) that I left entertained.
The first plotline involves Max’s owner Katie getting married and having a child named Liam. Max is very protective over Liam and starts scratching himself out of the anxiety he feels. As someone who deals with anxiety this was handled pretty well and may be a good touching point to talk to kids about how to deal with these strong emotions. Plus the relationship between Max and Liam is very sweet and easy to relate with (it’s a dog and a baby. Who can dislike that?).
Max, Duke and the family end up going out to the country where they meet a sheepdog named Rooster voiced by Harrison Ford (I believe his first voice acting role?). Rooster is disgusted by Max’s cowardice and helps encourage him to face his fears and have more confidence. These scenes while predictable were charming and sweet.
The second subplot is about Gidget (who is my favorite from the first film) trying to retrieve a bumblebee toy Max gave her to guard while he is away. The problem is the toy is stuck in the home of a crazy cat lady with dozens of cats! She even talks Chloe (my other favorite) into giving her lessons on how to be a cat. This section had some nice physical comedy and slapstick that made me laugh.
The final plot centers around Snowball, the Kevin Hart voiced bunny who is convinced he is actually a super-bunny because of the way his owner plays with him. He meets a new doggie named Daisy (voiced by Tiffany Haddish, who evidently must be in ever animated film this year). Daisy is upset because she saw a baby tiger get taken by a mean man at the circus. Snowball and the team of pets must save the tiger and restore order to the city.
This was the least successful of the 3 plots. First of all, I felt bad the circus is once again dragged through the mud. Most circuses took very good care of their animals and there aren’t many reported instances of abuse or neglect. It would be illogical of them to do so since they need the animals to perform in the show. I don’t think the circus is much worse than any other zoo experience, and yet they are usually the evil villains (Dumbo was a better, more fair approach). However, this portrayal of the circus wasn’t really my problem. It’s that Snowball is irritating and the villains are bland. I got a little sleepy to be honest in this section.
While some may not care for the episodic nature of the story in The Secret Life of Pets 2, I didn’t mind it. The characters are cute and there are enough laughs and heart to keep my interest. The vocal performances are all good (Patton Oswalt does a good job subbing out for Louis CK) and like I said, the message on overcoming fears is really sweet.
Alexandre Desplat deserves a huge shout-out for the music. It really helped sell the comedic and action- filled scenes, making me smile. The ending credits are also very sweet and heart-warming.
I have no doubt The Secret Life of Pets 2 will make a boat-load of money but for once it is deserved. The pets are adorable and the 3 sections (especially 2 out of 3) are charming and helpful for kids. I still wish Illumination would challenge themselves artistically more but there’s value in a simple comedy where characters learn simple lessons. I walked out having had a pretty good time.
Overall Grade- 7 out of 10