Saturday, 6 July 2019

The Secret Life of Pets 2 ★★☆☆☆

The Secret Life of Pets 2 is a decent kids film, and I’ve seen my fair share over the past couple of years. I’ve arguably seen a few too many, and I made the mistake of rewatching Up a day before watching Pets 2. The balloon-fueled drama filled my mind for long intervals during the latter, and it made it hard to judge the more recent animation by any fair metric. In comparison, Pets 2 is a hastily cobbled sequel that doesn’t match up by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s not completely dire.

The original Secret Life of Pets was a massive commercial success back in 2016, earning $875.5 million from a budget of $75 million. It’s no wonder Illumination decided to make a sequel, even if they didn’t really have a compelling story to tell. Your children will be happy to hear that *Max and Duke (Eric Stonestreet) are back for the second instalment, which now has a trio of stories. 

The main arc sees the cowardly pooch in the lead role struggling with overprotectiveness as toddler Liam begins to grow up. Side plots involve Gidget (Jenny Slate), who is busy trying to rescue Max’s favourite toy from a crazy cat lady’s house, and Kevin Hart’s rabbit superhero Snowball who decides to rescue an abused white tiger. He’s assisted by Daisy (Tiffany Haddish), and Harrison Ford joins the cast as surly sheepdog Rooster. The A, B and C plots eventually intertwine with fairly amusing consequences.

*Louis C.K no longer reprises the role of Max, given the multiple sexual harassment allegations he faced in 2017. Instead, Patton Oswalt takes up the mantle.

Most of the runtime is dedicated to showing Max attempting to get used to the child that his owners have thrust into his life. He soon becomes too anxious and is forced to wear the “cone of shame” as he struggles to adjust. It’s easy to empathise with his inability to deal with upheaval, but it isn’t really explored deeply. (Which is fair enough, given the target audience is younger children.) Each branch of the story is watchable, although it does start to lack direction by the midway point. You’ll watch a series of events happen in each of the plots, and there are a fair amount of laughs in between. Action sequences see monkeys and cannons in a circus-themed battle towards the end, but it does feel a little lopsided considering the talents of the cast.

It’s not a low-budget animation by any means, but it doesn’t compare to a typical Pixar offering in terms of humour, emotion, storytelling or visual quality.

Fans of the first should be happy enough to see their favourites return, and most children will be satisfied by the time the credits are rolling. So will most adults, but probably for different reasons. It’s worth mentioning that for such a short film (86 minutes), I lost count of how many times I glanced at my phone to see how long was left to go. It’s still half decent overall, but Pets 2 doesn’t really improve on the original in any meaningful way.

James Millin-Ashmore

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