The sequel to The Secret Life of Pets has more than one story following the daily lives of these New York animals. Max (Patton Oswalt) is becoming increasingly paranoid of his new human child to the point where his family takes a trip to a farm to relax his nerves. There he meets the gruff sheepdog, Rooster (Harrison Ford) and learns a thing or two about life’s many changes. While that’s going on, Gidget (Jenny Slate) loses Busy Bee, Max’s favorite toy, to the cat equivalent of Arkham Asylum and must learn from her friend Chloe (Lake Bell) the rules of a feline if she’s going to go incognito. And while that’s going on, the softened Snowball (Kevin Hart) is now a superhero recruited by tiny Shih Tzu Daisy (Tiffany Haddish) to help animals that suffer the worst of humanity.
French-American animation studio Illumination has been stigmatized in recent years for not taking risks and yet coming out with a billion dollars by making the same movie over and over again. Since they’ve risen to the ranks of Disney and Pixar with their Despicable Me empire, they’ve been known as the underdog studio that people see potential in, but are ultimately disappointed at for never stepping outside their crowd pleasing storytelling, as evident by their botched attempts to adapt Dr. Seuss material like The Lorax (that’ll have its day) and How the Grinch Stole Christmas (See our review). That’s not even mentioning how heavily they lean on the Minions for their merchandise and marketing. But the first Secret Life of Pets was one of their better movies despite being an animal clone of Toy Story. It was fun and creative, but predictable in where it was going. This however feels more memorable, even at the risk of the narrative. With so many stories taking place at once, there’s never any assurance on what’s going to happen next when cutting in between characters. And considering how predictable Illumination can get, that’s saying something. Every setting brings so many laughs to the table when at the vet, on the farm, or out in New York. It’s fast paced with strong voice-acting from the hyper Kevin Hart and innocent Jenny Slate. And to address the recasting of Max from Louis C.K. to Patton Oswalt, the latter fits the character better. C.K. Louis’ voice always sounded too deep for a small breed, but the skittish nature and tiny figure fits perfectly with Oswalt’s high pitched tone, not to mention he’s had more voice-acting experience from the likes of Kim Possible and Ratatouille to know that this kind of job isn’t just about speaking into a microphone. And Harrison Ford should voice animated characters more often if given the right roles because he’s perfect as Rooster the sheepdog, getting the most laughs out of all the adults with children at the screening for his sarcastic attitude on the situation. If only his character lasted as long as his headlining presence in the trailers. Now whether the story matters is entirely up to you as Illumination has been known to skip out on potentially deep character and story moments because all their efforts go into the animation and marketing first and the story second. If that’s going to happen at least there’s a ton of laughter to make up for the lack of development.
Speaking of the animation the studio doesn’t push the boundaries like others do, but they have their own contributions in character designs and their attention to animal movement. It aids the funny gags over-saturating the adventure in timing and expressions (Just wait till Chloe’s owner giver her catnip). The backgrounds are scenic locations that mimic a computer generated postcard. And unlike most studios this year, this has the courtesy of showcasing some traditional animation even if it only lasted 12 seconds. A new record in the United States that been shunning anything that’s not made digitally over the last couple of years.
The Secret Life of Pets 2 isn’t a masterpiece, but then again what film from Illumination is? After accepting that this is just a fun time and not trying to redefine the high animation bar, there’s still plenty of enjoyment to be had. Yes, there could’ve been more development between the characters and a deeper understanding of what Max is goes through, but at the same time it’s called The Secret Life of Pets. Of course it’s gonna go off the rails in the story to give all the animals equal screen time. At least this was more unpredictable in the direction compared to the original Toy Story clone. And it might just be one of Illumination’s better features, which seems to be a thing with the first sequel in their franchises. If you want a ton of laughs with animals, you’ll get it without question. But if you want a deep, complex dissection of how non-human beings interact with the world, Toy Story 4 is just around the corner.