The Secret Life of Pets 2 is a difficult sequel to get a grasp on. Like its predecessor, the animation is lively, the characters are appealing, and the gags hit their target more often than not. What the film lacks is focus in the storytelling department. Granted, the original film didn’t put that much emphasis on story either. The first movie knew what it wanted to be, however: a wacky cartoon that mainly exists to partake in jokes and slapstick, keeping the story simple. In The Secret Life of Pets 2, the plot comes off as incredibly simple while also being all over the place. Where the first film had one goal that tied every major character together, this follow-up feels more like three short films that were combined together. Think the animated animal version of Crash.
For obvious reasons, Louis C.K. has been replaced with Patton Oswalt as Max the dog. Max’s owner Katie (Ellie Kemper) is now married and a mother to a young boy named Liam. At first, it seems like this is going to be a retread of the original film with Max being jealous of Liam instead of Katie’s other dog Duke (Eric Stonestreet). Fortunately, that’s not the route the filmmakers take. Max actually becomes quite attached to his little master, getting even more protective than Liam’s own parents. Max becomes especially paranoid when the family takes a trip to the countryside, although he’s given some guidance from a salty Welsh Sheepdog named Rooster (Harrison Ford). They’re whole dynamic is a lot like Billy Crystal and Jack Palance in City Slickers.
Back in New York City, Max’s sort-of girlfriend Gidget (Jenny Slate) loses her sort-of boyfriend’s prized toy to a legion of cats. In order to fetch the toy back, Gidget seeks out fat cat Chloe (Lake Bell) to teach her how to be a lazy, inconsiderate feline. It’s clear whoever wrote this film prefers dogs over cats. Although this subplot offers the lowest stakes, it’s easily the funniest portion of the film. Gidget’s daring infiltrate of the cat lady’s apartment is a particularly zany escapade with a hilarious payoff. It would even be fun to see a spinoff buddy movie between the perky Gidget and the sardonic Chloe.
In yet another subplot, Snowball the rabbit (Kevin Hart) dresses as a superhero now, which honestly sounds like something the marketing department came up with to sell more toys. Tiffany Haddish goes from voicing Queen Watevra Wa’Nabi in The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part to voicing a Shih Tzu in another animated sequel. She enlists Snowball to save a young tiger who’s being mistreated by a cruel circus owner (Nick Kroll). Even after rescuing the wild cat from captivity, though, there’s still the question of where a bloody tiger can live in New York. Of course, the real question is why this lethal animal doesn’t try to eat Snowball or anyone else?
The Secret Life of Pets 2 juggles an assortment of characters and storylines that, while amusing, can also be clumsy. Although the film is only 86 minutes, there are times where you’ll get restless as we jump from one subplot to another. While the filmmakers do bring everything together for the climax, the journey can be topsy-turvy. That being said, the journey also provides solid laughs and serviceable escapism for all ages. The best way to describe the film is to borrow a quote from Roger Ebert’s At the Movies review of Oliver & Company: “It was harmless, it was innocent, there were some moments that were funny… the animation looked good… um, I don’t know…” Take that for what it’s worth!