Those who keep up with my film critiques will recall I reviewed A Dog’s Journey last week. It failed to elicit any of the heart-wrenching emotions it sought to, but Dog’s Journey did bear a compelling premise. That’s something that cannot be said about this week’s animal-themed sequel, Illumination’s The Secret Life of Pets 2


Pets 2 is an ensemble piece, featuring three concurrent storylines and over a dozen characters. The voice cast from the 2016 original reprised their roles, save for the recasting of Patton Oswalt as Max. Oswalt proves himself as an excellent choice for the neurotic dog, and the actors, returning and newcomers alike, portray their characters with enthusiasm and vigor. Moreover, Pets 2, a few awkward human designs notwithstanding, is an attractive film, sporting backdrops and characters that are visually well-realized. Unfortunately, the presentation is the only strength on display here.  

The Pets world is reminiscent of Toy Story‘s, meaning animals are articulate beings capable of adventuring while their owners aren’t looking. Pets 2 has three leads: the aforementioned Max, Snowball (Kevin Hart) and Gidget (Jenny Slate). Continuing from the prior film, Max’s owner settled down and had a son, Liam (Henry Lynch), whom he’s grown overly protective of. Boisterous rabbit Snowball, meanwhile, is the self-appointed defender of Manhattan. It’s a position he takes zealously, but he has neither the strength nor courage to live up to it. Gidget, a Pomeranian canine smitten with Max, was asked by her crush to watch his favorite toy while he’s away. She quickly loses it, and it bounces into an elderly woman’s apartment, which houses a small militia of cats. The three stories are tangentially related and only coalesce near the climax. 

'The Secret Life of Pets 2' Movie Review Roundup: Same Old Dogs, No New Tricks

Snowball’s small stature juxtaposes well with Hart’s bombastic voice. (Universal/Illumination)

Of the three, Max’s tale is the centerpiece and the only one with any substance; his character arc revolves around him learning to be brave (largely thanks to Rooster, a stoic Sheepdog voiced by Harrison Ford), and his dynamic with Liam is an allegory for parents watching their own kids start to grow up. How that’s all handled is rather threadbare, but it’s more to chew on than the goofy hijinks of his peers. And for as strong as the cast is, they can’t salvage the script; the gags and slapstick that permeate Pets 2 might appeal to the series’ target demographic, but there’s nothing clever here for older audiences. 

Illumination is best known for the Despicable Me franchise and its spin-off Minions. However, the animation studio has strived to expand its portfolio; they’ve produced films based on classic Dr. Seuss books, struck a deal with Nintendo to helm one based on the Super Mario license and they’ve attempted to foster their own original properties. Pets 2 is the latest project borne out of their wholly original efforts, and it’s regrettably of the same standard as their usual fare. Nevertheless, if someone’s looking for something that’ll distract their kids for 86 minutes, The Secret Life of Pets 2 is an option.

Those who enjoy Pets 2 and Illumination’s work as a whole will appreciate the Blu-ray disc’s bountiful lineup of bonus features. There are two brief mini-movies (one features Gidget’s heroic exploits and the other stars the Minions), deleted scenes and several making-of features, altogether spanning over 80 minutes of content. 


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