The first The Secret Life of Pets was a big hit, not only because it functioned as a children’s movie but because it had lots of fluffy animals that could be turned into toys and then bought by children. You have to keep the momentum going on something like that or else the kids move onto something else. And so we have The Secrete Life of Pets 2, a movie that seems entirely created simply to keep the characters in the front of mind of children.
It’s a film that lacks a purpose outside of this and that comes across clearly in its story, which seems more interested in making sure all the characters show up and have something to do than whether or not the need to reappear at all. Think of your worst fears when they announced a sequel to Toy Story and you’ve got The Secret Life of Pets 2.
The Secret Life of Pets 2
Directors: Chris Renaud, Jonathan del Val
Release Date: June 7, 2019
To be fair, Pets 2 isn’t crass or blatant in its attempts to maintain a franchise, but it’s lack of focus and disparate plotlines makes the movie feel more like it’s forcing all the characters back into action instead of telling a story that grew from them. Max (Patton Oswalt) and his bud Duke (Eric Stonestreet) are living their best lives after the first film when, in the first two minutes, their owner falls in love, gets married, has a child, and that child grows up to the age of three. Oddly, nothing else much changes despite the four year gap. Max becomes very protective and worried about the new child, too the point that it causes him to itch incessantly. So the family takes a vacation out to the farm where Max and Duke meet sheep dog Rooster (Harrison Ford), who looks down on Max’s over-protective city life.
The rest of the characters, including Kevin Hart’s Snowball and Jenny Slate’s Gidget, return too with their own story lines. Snowball, dressing up like a superhero now, goes on an adventure with newcomer Daisy (Tiffany Hadish) to rescue a Siberian tiger cub from an surprisingly cruel circus while Gidget is entrusted with the protection of Max’s favorite toy while he’s at the farm, which she promptly loses into the apartment of an old cat lady. All together the stories pull in everyone’s favorite(?) characters from the first film in one forced way or another, and then come to a conclusion that ties all of them together in the loosest of possible ways.
Honestly, if the three main stories (Max, Snowball, and Gidget) were three separate shorts released to hype up a sequel I’d be giving all of them solid reviews. They all feature some truly funny jokes and stories that, in shorter doses, would work fantastically. When you stitch them all together, however, it becomes a disjointed film that isn’t able to pull through on any of its emotional payoffs. This is especially true for Max’s plot, which shows him growing as a dog and overcoming fear, because it feels incomplete. The filmmaker’s want us to become invested in the adorable child/dog relationship but the film’s lack of focus on anything never lets it happen. The movie supplies fun, but can’t deliver on the heart.
There’s just nothing that sticks with the film. You don’t come out feeling like anyone got anywhere because the stories are so disconnected and don’t have time to build up to anything. It hops form one plot to another as if it can’t pay attention to anything for longer than a minute, but there’s no thematic through line to connect them. You may argue that as long as a children’s film is fun it’s OK, and I won’t disagree. There’s enough solid humor and jokes about things that pets do in the movie to keep children entertained, but the reason great children’s fare is great is because it goes beyond that. Secret Life of Pets 2 never really seems interested in moving beyond hitting its punchlines and reminding everyone that the characters exist.
I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention just how impressively hard Harrison Ford phones this performance in. The man has been making a career of phoning it in for the past ten years, but he does it so well here that it even seems to permeate the effort the animators put into his character. Rooster feels like a block of wood surrounded by lively and humorous characters and Ford’s complete and total lack of caring is the reason. I’m not sure whether I’m let down or impressed by the fact that he could seemingly care so little.
The Secret Life of Pets 2 sums out at nothing. Its stories are pleasant and airy and have jokes, but they can’t hold a film together. By the end of the movie you know that the characters exist, but you don’t know why they exist nor do you really care. The best children’s films — the best films — open up under their top layer to deliver something more, but Pets 2 is nothing underneath. Its secrets are empty.