The Secret Life of Pets 2 (2019)

They still have their secrets.

Three years ago, Illumination Entertainment, the team behind Despicable Me (2010) and its spinoff Minions (2015), coughed out a fresh fur ball with The Secret Life of Pets, a delightfully amusing family animation that gave us an inside look into the life of a group of zany household critters living in a New York apartment building, chiefly what they got up to behind closed doors, when their owners were away — think of it as Toy Story with animals. With the film having grossed nearly $900 million worldwide, the idea of a follow-up was sorta like catnip for the studio, who’ve gone on to develop this inevitable sequel.

‘… my name might be Rooster, but I ain’t no chicken!’

Thankfully, filmmakers do an admirable job in continuing the exploits of this furry band of four-legged mischief-makers. Directed once again by Chris Renaud, who’s joined by co-director Jonathan del Val, The Secret Life of Pets 2 is essentially three short stories rolled into a feature film (with some crossover in the last act), which works well for kiddies, even if some parents might feel like they’ve paid top dollar for a bunch of beautiful-looking Saturday morning cartoons.

The first of these shorts is a ‘toughen-up’ tale that focuses on Jack Russell Terrier Max (Patton Oswalt, replacing original star Louis C.K. after accusations of sexual misconduct got him booted). This time, instead of bringing home a big, furry mutt in Eric Stonestreet’s Duke, owner Katie (Ellie Kemper) has a kid, Liam (Henry Lynch), whom the dogs warm up to right away. Growing somewhat attached to the tyke, Max begins to see the world as a much more dangerous place and becomes barking mad, and a little overprotective of Liam. This leads Katie, who’s worried about her pooch, to take him to see a behavior specialist, where Max is fitted with a plastic cone that’ll stop him from his (nervous) itching. The family soon find themselves taking a trip to a gorgeous New Jersey farm, where Max comes face-to-face with a slew of new worries and concerns, including a terrifying turkey. There, Max meets a stern, intimidating cow-boy-type of herding dog called Rooster (an excellent Harrison Ford) who teaches the loyal terrier how to overcome his fears and anxieties and quit with the whole ‘helicopter parent’ thing.

‘… fighting crime is snow problem for me, baby!’

Back in the NYC apartment, white Pomeranian Gidget (Jenny Slate), who’s tasked with taking care of Max’ favorite toy (a squeaky Busy Bee) while he’s away, accidentally drops the darn thing into the room of a crazy cat lady (Meredith Salenger). And so, the puffy pom must work with scene-stealing feline Chole (Lake Bell) to learn how to become a cat, so that Gidget can sneak into the cat-infiltrated flat and retrieve Max’s beloved item — returning scribe Brian Lynch nails some of the observations on what it’s like to bunk with a cat in this portion of the film.

The last of these segments is an action-type of escapade that focuses on the screwy rabbit Snowball (Kevin Hart), who reimagines himself as a superhero dubbed ‘Captain Snowball’ after his owner Molly (Kiely Renaud) dresses him up as a caped crusader in amongst the superhero craze. Thinking he’s a real-life champion, Snowball is eventually recruited by a brave Shih Tzu name Daisy (Tiffany Haddish) to help her free a white tiger who’s being held against his will, which puts the animals squarely in the sights of an abusive circus owner named Sergei (Nick Kroll), a one-note baddie that wants to keep the big cat locked up in his cage.

‘Um, the dog-tor said the cone should help …’

Mixing emotion (mainly with Max’s life-lessons), comedy (a bit with a feral cat and a red dot laser pointer is on point), and action (there’s a third-act train sequence that feels lifted right out of 2017’s Paddington 2), the pieces don’t always fit together quite as nicely as moviemakers hope, but kudos to the guys for trying something different with the whole ‘individual adventures’ angle. What’s more successful are the lessons the film is trying to teach young ‘uns — think tackling obstacles head-on and being brave when faced with tough situations. Heck, even parents can learn a thing or two here, mainly when it comes to being overprotective of their children, particularly in today’s über-sensitive world (apparently swings are deemed too dangerous for the playground nowadays). And, look, while there’s nothing overly new here, the shenanigan-filled exploits are still enjoyable enough in their own right — sure, you can’t always teach a dog new tricks, but sometimes, the same old tricks still work a treat.

The voice cast is also in tip-top form. Natural funnyman Patton Oswalt, Ratatouille (2007), seamlessly takes over as the faithful, lovable Max, while Jenny Slate, Zootopia (2016), is still a ton of fun as his smittin’ love-sick admirer Gidget. Kevin Hart, Central Intelligence (2016), is a ball of ferocious energy as the spirited bunny Snowball, playing well off his co-star and frequent collaborator Tiffany Haddish, The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part (2019), who’s barkin’ with attitude on their daring rescue mission as Daisy. With that said, it’s Harrison Ford, Ender’s Game (2013), who totally steals the show as the gruff farm dog Rooster, Ford’s hardened chops adding gravitas to the overall proceedings.

So much cat-attitude!

A cluster of favorites also return, such as Dana Carvey’s elderly Basset Hound Pops, who’s teaching his own litter how to be ‘adorable, wide-eyed and loving’ with his ‘puppy school’ coaching. Likewise, fawn pug Mel (Bobby Moynihan) and laid-back dachshund Buddy (Hannibal Buress) have a couple of good scenes as Gidget is going about her pussy cat training.

All in all, The Secret Life of Pets 2 is good, harmless fun that’s sure to delight the littlies and pet owners alike; it’s peppered with a bunch of throwaway gags that are bound to resonate with animal lovers, as well as a few good take-home messages for viewers from all walks of life. It just goes to show that there’s still some bite left in this pet-centric series. And ya know what, I’d even be up for a third installment if it focused on Ford’s hard-nosed Welsh Sheepdog!

3.5 / 5 – Great

Reviewed by Mr. Movie

The Secret Life of Pets 2 is released through Universal Pictures Australia