The Secret Life of Pets 2 is the latest offering from the Illumination Entertainment animation studio, which also produced the 3 Despicable Me films (plus the Minions film, a spinoff of those movies), as well as The Grinch remake that came out last fall. It is the sequel to the Illumination’s The Secret Life of Pets (who would’ve guessed?), and re-introduces all your favorite characters back into the mix for another adventure. When Max’s owner Katie falls in love, gets married, and has a child, Max and Duke take great care to ensure nothing bad happens to him. The world is a scary place, full of dangers according to Max, so Liam (that’s the little boy’s name) needs protecting. Although, it seems like Max is the one who’s scared of everything, so after being taken to the vet for anxiety, Max and Duke are taken on a road trip to a farm owned by a close relative, and it is here that Max learns from Rooster (voiced by Harrison Ford) how to overcome his fears, and let Liam grow up. On the other side of town, two other different plots are happening at the same time, and if I described them both with enough detail so you’d know what’s going on even without spoilers, this section alone would be 8 pages long.
I’ve never really been a fan of Illumination ever since the original Despicable Me left theaters after charming audiences and the studio announced that a minions-centered spinoff would be coming later on. It felt like (and ultimately was) a pure cash-grab move by the studio that prioritized the hype around a bunch of supporting characters that should stay supporting characters, rather than letting the story of any of the films in that trilogy be the basis for why the spinoff would happen. As well, Illumination’s comedy stylings centered around the much easier to make poop, fart, and “hey! Look at that!” type of jokes that are all too common in kids movies, but ultimately serve no purpose to the characters or stories they were telling, stories which wildly wasted great opportunities to say something that’s actually compelling. So while I was never really looking forward to Pets 2, I thought it might at least be an improvement over the first one, which has only deteriorated in quality over time. And…parts of it are.
Let’s get this out of the way right up front: The Secret Life of Pets 2 is…okay. Just okay. And that’s totally fine, if that’s all you expect out of your animated fare. The main positives end up being the stuff with Max on the farm, some of the comedy (which is better and more character-centric this time around), and the animation itself. It’s an absolutely beautiful-looking movie, with Illumination having taken noticeable steps to highlight the realistic furs and background textures of things like the ground or the trees in a number of spots. So while I wasn’t necessarily a fan of the movie itself, I didn’t hate the experience of watching it. Whoever worked on the digital artists’ team should be applauding themselves for creating animation that could potentially rival Dreamworks’ How to Train Your Dragon movies if the storytellers ever chose to do anything interesting with that animation.
The stuff with Max on the farm learning to overcome his fear is really good stuff too. There’s a lesson there in letting go of the things we love so they can grow into what (or who) they’re meant to be, but the film never actually explores that angle of it, which makes the fact that the message is there the only positive thing about that message. Most of that is largely due to the fact that two whole other plots are happening all the back in New York City due to the story’s need to shove every character from the last one back onto the screen, which pulls away from the main story, which should be Max overcoming his fear, but it’s not. And that’s the main flaw of this movie, the one thing that brings it way down from where it could have been: it lacks any sense of focus or cohesion as a film.
Beyond setting up needlessly over-complicated action set-pieces that makes almost no sense as the climax to their films, Illumination’s main problem seems to be that they always want to tell every story of every major character in most of their films, and Pets 2 is no exception to that Achilles heel. Whilst Max (our main character) is on the farm learning to overcome his fears and interacting with a potentially interesting character that doesn’t really go anywhere in Rooster, Snowball and Gidget are off on their own separate adventures; Snowball is learning to be a superhero by rescuing a tiger who never gets developed (because what else can make an animation studio even more money) with a new character named Daisy (voiced by Tiffany Haddish) who’s more interesting than him even though we never learn much about her, and Gidget has to…retrieve a toy of Max’s by becoming a cat god.
And that’s part of the problem with this movie’s lack of cohesion or focus; the plots are all so wildly different that the film ends up being all over the place instead of just telling one story, and making that compelling. At least the first one of these movies knew it could only tell one story, and mostly stuck to that (even if most of it didn’t make all that much sense). With Pets 2, the most compelling arc in the whole movie (Max’s) is the one that we actually spend the least amount of time on, and the entire film is brought down because of it. All of this adds up to the first Pets being the better film, and considering its deteriorating quality, that doesn’t bode very well for this movie.
Don’t get me wrong, the film’s not a complete piece of trash; for what it’s worth, Patton Oswalt replacing Louis C.K. as Max never actually hurts the film or makes you miss the latter in any way, and even though I’m not a fan of studios just throwing Tiffany Haddish into everything (remember when that happened with J-Law and we all got tired because of the overload?), she makes the most of her character with a pretty solid voice performance that justifies why it’s her that got the part in the first place. It’s a shame though that the studio almost completely wasted Harrison Ford, considering Rooster never gets developed as a character either. In fact, this movie almost doesn’t have any character development along its main storyline. Also (and this is a separate question), what are the rules of this world exactly? Can all the animals talk or only some of them? The movie seems to flit back and forth on a dime based on what’s convenient for the plot to happen, and it’s strangely annoying.
In the end, The Secret Life of Pets 2 is not very good, but it’s good enough to distract the kids if you just need an hour or two out of the house. It’s sloppy on character, overloaded on 3 different plots that have basically nothing to do with each other, and it fails to follow the rules of its own world most of the time. Still, it’s a kids movie, and kids will enjoy it. Even though the animation is beautiful and some things have been improved, though, I still wouldn’t call this movie a success, not by a long shot.
I’m giving “The Secret Life of Pets 2” a 6.5/10
- The Friendly Film Fan
Film critic in my free time. Film enthusiast in my down time. Writer for Bitesize Breakdown.