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The Secret Life of Pets 2 Movie Review

The Secret Life of Pets 2 (2019) movie poster The Secret Life of Pets 2

Theatrical Release: June 7, 2019 / Running Time: 86 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Chris Renaud / Writer: Brian Lynch

Voice Cast: Patton Oswalt (Max), Kevin Hart (Snowball), Harrison Ford (Rooster), Eric Stonestreet (Duke), Jenny Slate (Gidget), Tiffany Haddish (Daisy), Lake Bell (Chloe), Dana Carvey (Pops), Bobby Moynihan (Mel),Hannibal Buress (Buddy), Chris Renaud (Norman), Ellie Kemper (Katie), Pete Holmes (Chuck), Henry Lynch (Liam), Nick Kroll (Sergei), Sean Giambrone (Cotton), Meredith Salenger (Cat Lady), Michael Beattie (Lead Wolf, Skinny Cat), Kiely Renaud (Molly)

 

The thing everyone immediately associates with Illumination are the Minions of Despicable Me, but actually the studio's highest-grossing film domestically is The Secret Life of Pets. That summer 2016 release inched past Despicable Me 2 at the box office
and was no slouch internationally, finishing not far from the billion or so grossed worldwide by Minions and Despicable Me 3. Naturally, the question about a sequel wasn't "if" but "when" and now we have our answer. The Secret Life of Pets 2 opens tomorrow, three years after its predecessor.

The lead role of protagonist and narrator Max, a Jack Russell Terrier, has been recast, following the fallout of Louis C.K.'s misconduct scandal made public in late 2017. Fellow stand-up icon and middle-aged guy Patton Oswalt takes over, picking up his most significant voice acting gig since Pixar's Ratatouille.

Though they've surrendered infallibility, Pixar remains the gold standard that most animation studios aspire to. In recent years, they've softened from their stance of only making a sequel if they had a really good story to tell. Brian Lynch, one of the original Secret's three credited writers, returns on his own with not a really good story, but three okay ones with which to juggle here.

City dogs Max and Duke meet a salty old country Newfoundland named Rooster in "The Secret Life of Pets 2."

Over the course of the first movie, Max adjusted to sharing his New York apartment and his owner Katie's affections with a large Newfoundland mix named Duke (voiced by Eric Stonestreet). Now, Duke and Max are getting used to Katie's husband Chuck and their newborn son Liam also being part of their home and world. The opening moments of this sequel suggest that will be the focus, as Duke and Max assume the role of protective parents over the kid who's now old enough to crawl.

Instead of following through on that, though, Lynch has the two dogs go to the country for a short family trip. There, they meet an old Welsh Sheepdog named Rooster (Harrison Ford, sounding like Dennis Quaid trying to sound like Harrison Ford), who pulls off the vet-prescribed cone Max is wearing around his neck and teaches the timid city dog to face his fears.

Meanwhile, Max has entrusted his most beloved bumblebee chew toy to his white Pomeranian neighbor Gidget (Jenny Slate). Of course, she promptly loses it in a crazy old cat lady's apartment. To recover it, Gidget has to unleash her inner cat, which she does with the help of a sock on her tail and lessons from nonplussed grey tabby Chloe (Lake Bell). Once again, Chloe provides the most amusement to those of us who prefer cats to dogs.

To recover the treasured squeak toy of Max's that she lost, Gidget is trained by Chloe to think and act like a cat.

The third storyline finds the rabbit Snowball (Kevin Hart) adopting a superhero costume and persona to help Daisy (Tiffany Haddish) help free a Siberian tiger cub who is miserable in the captivity of a cruel, pointy-nosed, Russian circus owner. This narrative serves up more action than the other two and comes to feature a little more at the climax. But none of the stories is a clear A, B, or C. They're all pretty modest in ambition and entertainment value. If they were separated and not interwoven, this very well might have the feel of one of Disney's animated TV pilots turned direct-to-video movies of the late '90s and early 2000s.

Despite that design, Secret Life 2 should still perform remarkably well at the box office. The first movie is beloved by kids and this one has enough to keep them entertained. The series -- and one can't imagine Illumination and Universal stopping here if this is received as expected -- is not overflowing with wit or creativity, but it possesses a love and knowledge of household animals that makes it broadly endearing.
And many kids would prefer that to the rich plotting and sly commentary of Zootopia. When they get older, that might well change, which means that Secret Life probably won't enjoy the longevity of, say, Toy Story, whose fourth installment of the past quarter-century poses as formidable competition in the weeks ahead.

Through this, their tenth film, I've yet to be enamored with anything Illumination has made. But I'll admit they have been adept and cunning at courting moviegoers and leaving them pleased at a tiny fraction of the production costs of their competition. Secret Life 2 won't win any awards or become the favorite movie of many kids. But its animal hijinks will make them laugh repeatedly over the course of its 80 minutes and you can't imagine the filmmakers set their sights any higher than that. Other than that, this sequel's greatest achievement may be taking songs that once were cool -- "Empire State of Mind", Coolio's "Fantastic Voyage", ZZ Top's "La Grange" -- and making them no longer cool just by using them here.

Related Reviews:
Now in Theaters: Aladdin Avengers: Endgame UglyDolls Booksmart
Illumination Entertainment: The Secret Life of Pets Dr. Seuss' The Grinch Despicable Me Dr. Seuss' The Lorax Hop

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Reviewed June 5, 2019.



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