The Secret Life of Pets 2 is the second film in Illumination’s Secret Life of Pets franchise — much like the entry film to this franchise, The Secret Life of Pets 2 is split with two sets of characters — the first involves with Max (Patton Oswalt) and Duke (Eric Stonestreet) as the leading characters and Snowball (Kevin Hart) and Daisy (Tiffany Haddish) as the secondary characters; with Gidget (Jenny Slate) providing a supporting role, with all of their seperate stories making an attempt to more or less converge toward the end. In this follow-up we continue the story of Max, a dog that gets a little too nervous when he feels obligated to protect a new family member in his household.
The type of storytelling structure that combines several separate stories converging into one is common; for it to work effectively each story should ideally play a role in converging toward an overarching moral or theme. Unfortunately, in The Secret Life of Pets 2 only Max’s story does this. Max’s journey is one of self-discovery — learning to overcome his behavioral issues and anxieties. Max is constantly nervous for Liam (a toddler aged boy); his nerves manifest into a fear that the worst case scenario could happen at any moment. With that, there is perhaps the makings of a good story in here somewhere; one that could’ve explored the flaws of being overly protective. If this story had been more focused, one could’ve even seen these morals translate into how sheltering children can produce the same vulnerabilities in character. It’s clear that Illumination wasn’t willing to fully commit to making something more complex. The other characters are there to simply chase their own tail and churn out “cute moments” while almost every conceivable pet related trope you can imagine in shunted in your face at all times; making the 86 minute runtime feel exceedingly longer than it was.
You do get the nice addition of Harrison Ford playing the role of a farm-hardered Welsh Sheepdog; which was a refreshing change of pace. Voice acted films are trickier to judge today than they ever have been, as voice actors are often chosen for their star-power than their inherent talent as a VA. Jenny Slate, Lake Bell, and Harrison Ford in my view remain as the only voices in these films that are worthy of being considered ‘well-fitted’ for their respective characters. Kevin Hart provides nothing new, simply playing himself and Tiffany Haddish follows his lead — both of their characters are akin to yappy Chihuahua that make your ears ring.
Illumination adds some visual flair to this film giving it some life as the narrative can’t keep things interesting. While the studio still has a long way to go before reaching Pixar-level status in the animation department, Pets 2 marks the biggest step in their improvements. Particularly, the lighting and colour is improved upon and used better allowing the film to feel more polished-up than the original, but still lacks on providing the textures with any detail. The animation has become more expressive enabling the audience to fully get on-board with the characters.
Sequels are designed to explore the universe that the original film has set up and this film feels less comfortable in its universe than ever before. The environments are scattered and never truly explored, as the film jumps from moment to moment, it is difficult to keep track of where the characters are as the film bounces from character to character. What feels like an absence of score hinders the intensity and emotion that is often trying to be conveyed as there is never any composed piece of music elevating the material. The message and themes that are trying to be included in this film would have benefited greatly through an impactful score.
Like a cat that can’t decide whether it wants to go inside or out, some will feel the same way about the cinema exit. The runtime might be worth it for some parents — after all, the end credits do provide real footage of animals doing outlandish things for their owners – but that alone can’t be enough. Ultimately The Secret Life of Pets 2 further proves the old phrase right, maybe an old dog can’t learn new tricks.