Reviewed by GREG KING

Directors: Chris Renaud and Jonathan del Val

Stars: voices of Patton Oswalt, Kevin Hart, Harrison Ford, Eric Stonestreet, Tiffany Haddish, Lake Bell, Jenny Slate, Ellie Kemper, Pete Holmes, Henry Lynch, Nick Kroll, Meredith Salenger, Kiely Renaud, Dana Carvey, Bobby Moynihan, Hannibal Buress.

Patton Oswalt and Ellie Kemper in The Secret Life of Pets 2 (2019)

The 2016 animated film The Secret Life Of Pets explored what our beloved pets get up to when we are not around. It introduced us to such characters as Max, the cute beagle, and Duke, his new and mostly unwanted housemate, and Snowball, a fluffy but aggressive white rabbit. Each of the animals was given their own distinct personality. That film grossed over $900 million at the box office, so a sequel was inevitable. But what was charming and endearing about the original film seems to be missing from this largely unnecessary, lazy and disjointed sequel.

The neurotic terrier Max (now voiced by Patton Oswald, replacing the original voice of Louis CK after his was fired following the backlash over his sexual misconduct controversy) has adjusted to life with Katie and Duke (Eric Stonestreet). But as we learn in an opening montage that fills us in with what has happened in the two years since the original film, his owner Katie (Ellie Kemper) has met and married Chuck (voiced by Pete Holmes) and the pair have had a young son whom they named Liam (Henry Lynch). Initially resentful of the new arrival, Max becomes overly protective of Liam, and is afraid that he is not up to the task of protecting the youngster.

Katie and Chuck take Liam and the dogs on a trip to the country to attend a family reunion on the farm owned by Uncle Jeff. This concept introduces the theme of the clash of cultures, of the differences between city living and the rustic lifestyle, which takes our heroes out of their comfort zone. But on the farm, Max meets an intimidating sheepdog named Rooster (voiced by Harrison Ford in his first animated film), who has little time for these city-based creatures. But he eventually teaches Max some valuable lessons about surviving life on the farm and helps him to face up to his fears.

Meanwhile the white Pomeranian Gidget (Jenny Slater) tries to rescue Max’s favourite toy from the apartment owned by the “crazy cat Lady” (voiced by Meredith Salenger) which is full of cats. With the help of Chloe (Lake Bell) she learns how to act like a cat so she can infiltrate the feline-infested apartment.

In another subplot, Snowball (voiced by Kevin Hart), who almost stole the original film with his antics, has been adopted by Molly (Kiely Renaud), a young girl who lives in the same apartment block as Katie. She dresses him up as a superhero, which fuels his dreams of grandeur and adventure. Snowball (in his superhero guise of Captain Snowball) sets out to rescue a rare white tiger named Hu from the clutches of abusive circus owner named Sergei (Nick Kroll). This leads to a frantic chase involving a train, that brings the various subplots together.

Written by Brian Lynch (Minions, Puss In Boots, etc) The Secret Life Of Pets 2 is very busy with three main subplots running through a very busy 86 minutes, but this gives the film an episodic feel. Lynch works in a number of positive moral message aimed at younger audiences, dealing with resilience. He also introduces us to some new characters that include a shi tzu named Daisy (voiced by Tiffany Haddish, from Night School, etc). The film has been directed by Chris Renaud (Despicable Me, etc) and Jonathan del Val, a former animator with Illumination Studios who has worked on film like The Grinch, Despicable Me, etc. The pair certainly bring a lot of energy and slapstick humour to the material. And the film is littered with plenty of throwaway visual gags that work.

Hart returns as Snowball and his hyperactive schtick perfectly suits the character, and his antics provide the film with some of its best moments. Ford brings his usual gruff attitude and a sense of gravitas to his voice work here.

As expected from Illumination Studios, the animation is colourful, and the characters and environments superbly rendered. But this is hardly the best in show on offer. The Secret Life Of Pets 2 is very busy, but this is largely inoffensive stuff that will appeal to youngsters. Older audiences may find it all a bit bland.


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