The Secret Life Of Pets 2
US (2019) Dirs. Chris Renaud & Jonathan Del Val
Once you have a hit film, a sequel is inevitable and this is the case with The Secret Life Of Pets, a fun modern take on the perennial cute animated animals trope. It is concept that proved fertile first time around and now we get to see where it can be taken next.
Set two years after the events of the first film, we learn from a swift prologue that the Manhattan household where dogs Max and Duke and their owner Kate live has since expanded. Kate has married a portly man named Chuck who has moved in, and they now have a son name Liam. At first, Max resented Liam’s presence, but when the nipper gives Max a hug and says he loves him, Max’s attitude changes.
Now, the family are paying visit Chuck’s uncle on his farm, where Max and Duke learn some important life lessons from grizzled sheepdog Rooster about bravery and honour. Meanwhile back in the city, mouthy rabbit Snowball has opened a can of worms when, under his superhero guise of Captain Snowball, has rescued a white tiger from a cruel Russian cruel owner who wants the tiger back.
Apologies for the glib plot recap there but as much fun as this sequel is, it doesn’t have the most prominent of storylines, more a series of madcap mini adventures which only converge at the very end for a rushed climax. I would wager this is why the film has had so many negative reviews, but some people are too snobby about what they want from genre films and forget there is nothing wrong with just having fun with them too.
Then again, this film is aimed at younger audiences uninterested in storylines with deep meanings, symbolism, and characteristic mise-en-scene, they want cute animals doing funny things, and that is exactly what is on offer here. It is clear following the first film, the writers paid attention to who the favourite characters were and reacted accordingly. allowing them to sharing the spotlight with the protagonist of the first film, Max.
Getting the first rub, though he was a prominent character of the first film, is gregarious rabbit Snowball. Having been dressed up in a superhero costume by his owner who is going through a hero phase, Snowball gets it into his head that he is some sort of icon of justice and puts the word out he is willing to help out or save any animal in need.
His first client is a Shih-Tzu named Daisy. She met a white tiger cub named Hu on a flight back from holiday and learned of his plight as an attraction for Sergei, a Russian circus owner prone to mistreating his animals, except for a tiny sneaky monkey who is as evil as Sergei is. Daisy seeks Captain Snowball’s help in freeing Hu, which may have been her first mistake.
It might be typical of the CGI animated milieu in terms of originality and creativity, but the raid on the circus is still a hoot, chock full of manic chases and zany hijinks as Snowball has to out run a pack of vicious guard wolves. Part of what makes it work is Snowball’s delusions of grandeur, believing he really is a superhero but can’t back up his cocky verbiage, only victorious because of Daisy’s derring-do and guile instead.
But the problem doesn’t end there as Hu needs a place to hide out and compared to all the other animals that make up this fluffy cast list, Hu is larger than them by quite a margin, and commensurately rambunctious. Hu does spend a night with geriatric basset hound Pops and his student training puppies (cuteness overload alert) but causes too much damage and Snowball needs to find an alternative ASAP.
Elsewhere, Pomeranian Gidget, who is in love with Max, has been entrusted with looking after his favourite toy while he is away at the farm. Unfortunately, she loses the toy when it ends up in a flat belonging to an old lady and her cats – only in this case plural is a little weak as the flat is overrun with felines of all shapes, sizes and levels of ferocity. To get the toy back, Gidget has one option – disguise herself as a cat to infiltrate the flat without arousing suspicion of the other cats.
A dog pretending to be a cat has been done before and vice versa if you remember your Tom and Jerry cartoons, but not like this, with resident lazy but urbane kitty Chloe giving Gidget deportment lessons feline style. Pug Mel and Dachshund Buddy watch on in awe, even used as test subjects to measure Gidget’s progress, the result being some great, very cheeky slapstick humour.
Referring back to the earlier point about the flimsiness of the story, it becomes more apparent to the viewer as the three threads begin to merge with just over ten minutes left in the film, which is a swift 86-minutes including credits. To say the finale is rushed is an understatement, though not short on action and cuts gags, but it could and should have been more. Another 10 minutes or so would have helped, or maybe some trimming in some of the earlier scenes to help make up the time.
Most of the voice cast from the first film return here with the exception of Louis CK, who voiced Max, his exposure (pardon the pun) as a sexual deviant forcing the change in actor, Max now being voiced by Patton Oswalt. Among the newcomers to the fold, is no less a man than Harrison Ford as Rooster, a brief part, but one befitting his gruff senior tones.
Despite the shortcomings of the story, The Secret Life Of Pets 2 offers undemanding entertainment to keep kids – and adults – amused, in the company of a great bunch of characters with the potential to make this a neat little franchise.