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Review: The Secret Life of Pets 2

by Ben Miller (who has small children)

What do we want from a film when it is obviously not for us? If I'm watching an indie about a life experience that's in no way relatable to my own, I can still admire the artistry and the humanity. If I’m watching a film about talking pets specifically aimed at children, I can enjoy it... but what am I supposed to get out of it? Films like The Incredibles, WALL-E or Wreck-It Ralph are “for” kids, but non-children can enjoy them on a number of levels beyond the bright colors, fart jokes or action sequences.  Those films dug deep into issues about family, loneliness and friendship and had an overarching theme to bring everything together in a coherent way.

The Secret Life of Pets 2 is not one of those films and doesn't try to be...

Picking up after the events of the 2016 original, Pets follows Max (Patton Oswalt, replacing Louis CK) as he navigates the increasingly terrifying world now that his owner has a child, Liam.  Max lives in constant fear for Liam and develops stress as a result. If this doesn’t sound like the type of plot that would last through a mercifully brief 86-minute run time, you would be right.  Side adventures with bunny Snowball (Kevin Hart) and Gidget the Pomeranian (Jenny Slate) take up an inordinate amount of time.

Why does this film exist?  Because the original made a staggering $875 million worldwide!  Would you have guessed that? Did you know the original is the third highest grossing movie in Russian film history?  The Secret Life of Pets 2 is an unrepentant money grab disguised as an animated film.

So, what’s the problem?  Hart brings a madcap energy to the Snowball role and is paired up with Shih Tzu Daisy (Tiffany Haddish) to save an adorably timid white tiger from an evil circus manager.  That’s fun! Also fun, Gidget the Pomeranian has to pose as a cat and infiltrate the apartment of a crazy cat lady. Good times! We also get to go to a farm and meet the heroic Welsh Sheepdog named Rooster (Harrison Ford) who shows Max the world isn’t as scary as he makes it out to be.  Great message!

This vignettes work really well on their own, but they converging in very messy ways.  Snowball and Gidget’s stories have clear and separate motivations from Max’s, but Gidget’s story comes to a screeching halt when Max is involved and collides with Snowball’s story.  At the end, you’re sitting there wondering to yourself, “Is that it? That’s how everything is finished?”

This is no fault of the voice actors, who all bring the best of what they are given.  I particularly liked a catnip-induced turn from Lake Bell as the world’s laziest housecat who jumps into action when Gidget needs help.

Perhaps the production was rushed.  It definitely plays as if the creators had a deadline and after a while, they decided on three or four ideas that sort-of worked instead of one idea that totally worked.  Pixar has been famously patient with a number of their films and have admitted many of the projects that did not work were due to time crunches and forcing the story to develop.

Despite its flaws The Secret Life of Pets 2 is perfectly acceptable.  The 86 minutes go by pretty quick, the kids enjoyed it. But I forget it the moment I left the theater, just like the original.  It will make a ton of money (here, and in Russia), so expect another sequel down the road. Let's just hope they put more thought into it when it gets here.  Please, take your time.

Grade: C
Oscar Chances? Frankly, I would be shocked.  The original missed out on the Best Animated Feature nomination when Hollywood animation films were having a down year.  It didn’t help that it came out against Zootopia, either.  The other contenders this year will easily bounce the sequel out.



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Reader Comments (2)

Honestly, it feels like this is a TV series idea that Illumination can't commit to being a TV series. These four plots as self-contained 11 or 22 minute episodes? Might be great.

June 7, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

Sigh. Always sad to see one of these go basically empty.

June 8, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

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