“The Secret Life of Pets 2” is Illumination Entertainment’s sequel to their 2016 mega hit. Director Chris Renaud is back, along with most of the principal cast. But the vibe, as a whole, is much different from the original – and for the better.
Patton Oswalt (who broke through as a voice actor as Remy in Pixar’s 2007 Oscar-winner “Ratatouille”) takes over for comedian Louis C.K. in the lead role of Max. He and fellow canine Duke (“Modern Family”’s Eric Stonestreet) didn’t get along in the first film. Other characters, including villain bunny Snowball (voiced by Kevin Hart), contributed to the rather negative aroma of the first litter.
But three years later, we’re taken back into the world of these pets with practically a clean slate. Every character has a brighter, more positive attitude. The storylines are flawed but amusing. And while this franchise still lacks clever, dialogue-based humor, both kids and adults who love their pets should at least like this 85-minute action adventure.
Each of the breakout critters from the first film is showcased in “Pets 2”. Human Katie, Max and Duke’s owner, has gotten married and had a baby. Toddler Liam has tons of fun playing with his new best friends. The two dogs assume protective, paternal roles in the young family. Meantime, Hart’s Snowball becomes a caped crusader. His young owner likes to dress him up in a superhero costume. And the slightly delusional bunny takes his new role seriously. When a crisis hits the neighborhood pet community, Captain Snowball teams up with pup Daisy (Tiffany Haddish) on a rescue mission. And Gidget (Jenny Slate) gets to debunk the age-old myth that dogs and cats can’t get along.
But the best part of “Pets 2” is the plot line involving Max and Duke visiting Katie’s uncle’s farm in the country. It’s there they meet herding dog Rooster. As incredible as it seems, Harrison Ford had never been asked to voice a character in an animated movie before being approached by the Illumination people to play Rooster. Just as the late Paul Newman did with Doc Hudson in “Cars”, Ford infuses depth, honesty, grit and emotion into his performance as Rooster, who quickly becomes a mentor to anxiety-ridden Max.
One of the main themes of “Pets 2” is letting go. And that’s what Renaud and writer Brian Lynch have done (and ask audiences to do the same). They’ve allowed their characters to run free — building to a third act that’s completely manic (composer Alexandre Desplat’s score matches the energy) and downright overwhelming.
“Pets 2” isn’t laugh out loud funny or overly imaginative. But it’s a notable improvement over the first go-around, with much more charm/heart. The pet-smart money says this isn’t the last time we’ll be exploring this gang’s now, not-so-secret lives.