Illumination Entertainment and Universal Pictures have had luck with short films that star popular characters from their franchises; most notably those minions from the Despicable Me series. This success with the short-form platform is experimented with in The Secret Life of Pets 2, the feature-length sequel to 2016’s hit family film.
Instead of expanding on the story told in The Secret Life of Pets about the importance of family and what defines home, The Secret Life of Pets 2 threads several different stories – think “B-story sitcom arcs” – and ties them together in the final act to reunite these familiar, furry characters.
Max (voiced by Patton Oswalt, replacing Louis C.K.) and Duke (voiced by Eric Stonestreet) embark on a new adventure, as their family takes a vacation to the country. Here, the pals meet Rooster, a sheepdog (voiced by Harrison Ford) who has seen it all and has already grown tired of their city dog antics. Back in the city, Gidget (voiced by Jenny Slate) is babysitting Max’s favourite toy, only to lose the toy to a swarm of feral house cats owned by an old woman who could be a perfect match for Mr. Magoo. While Gidget devises a plan, Snowball (the villain from the previous movie who has turned his attitude around since then, still voiced by Kevin Hart) has ambitions of fighting crime and being the superhero all animals need. He’s recruited by Daisy (a new pooch voiced by Tiffany Haddish) for a job involving the rescue of a white tiger from the clutches of evil circus folk.
The stories are off-the-wall, plain and simple, and may have worked better by themselves as short-form features on a DVD or Blu-ray. But while audiences may feel cheated by the inconsistency of a traditional story, directors Chris Renaud (one-half of the predecessor’s filmmaking team) and Jonathan Del Val maintain the film’s momentum by featuring energetic animation and collecting fun vocal performances from the talented cast. The jokes within this series are still funny, although the writing is less observational when compared to the first outing. However, now that these characters have been established, screenwriter Brian Lynch (also returning from the first film) has shifted his writing to focus more on the attributes that make these animated goofballs so irresistible.
The Secret Life of Pets 2 is certainly a risky move for Illumination Entertainment a studio that has been guilty of falling back on formulas to garner easy crowd-pleasing results, but I think this gamble has paid off.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie