‘The Secret Life of Pets 2’ Review: A Frustrating Narrative Structure Makes for a Frustrating Sequel

© 2019 UNIVERSAL PICTURES

Illumination’s tenth animated feature The Secret Life of Pets 2 is co-directed by Chris Renaud and Jonathan Del Val and is the sequel to, you guessed it, The Secret Life of Pets released three years prior. This sequel has had quite the diegetic facelift behind the scenes. The original leading voice of Louis C.K. has been dropped due to numerous controversies and confirmed allegations of lewd behavior. Taking his place as Max is famed comedian Patton Oswalt. This time around we find this tight-knit gang split up into three interconnected stories in and around New York, in which these characters earn new friendships, conquer anxiety, free Siberian tigers, and protect their humans at all cost.

It would be disingenuous of me to state that I remember much of the original predecessor to The Secrets Life of Pets 2, both visually and contextually. There is little that excited or engrained itself in my subconscious while watching the said film. Perhaps not the greatest of compliments but ultimately it speaks for itself. The Secret Life of Pets 2 is more of the same, if not slightly more bland and inconsequential. There is less bite this time around or flavor for that matter when it comes to proceedings. The feature, sadly, is just going through the motions for what feels like a sizeable paycheck for everyone involved.

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Patton Oswalt as Max and Harrison Ford as Rooster in The Secret Life of Pets 2 © 2019 UNIVERSAL PICTURES

The animation itself throughout looks delightful. The level of detail in the animal’s fur looks stunning, yet in the same breath, the design for Sergei the evil circus owner and villain of the film voiced by Knick Kroll is a Frankenstein inspired palette and love child of Gru from the Despicable Me franchise and Adam Sandler’s Dracula from the Sony Hotel Transylvania franchise. The design is just obtuse, and while  Kroll injects some superb character and really hams up as much as he can for significant flair, the design of the said character is almost that of chalk and cheese compared to the world built around it.

Surprisingly, the star-studded voice cast is absolutely flat. Newcomer Patton Oswalt does what he can but this is nothing compared to his performance as the titular character in Pixar’s Ratatouille. The material Oswalt is working with here doesn’t have much – if any – gravitas for him to stretch his dramatic or even comedic legs. It comes off more so that of a dramatic reading than that of a character full of life and energy, and the younger audience members are certainly going to struggle to connect. Returning players Kevin Hart and Jenny Slate throw in decent enough performances as Snowball and Gidget, respectively. Both have individual and sizeable arcs that are entertaining, with each voice artists infusing their respective layer of comedy.

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Patton Oswalt as Max and Ellie Kemper as Katie in The Secret Life of Pets 2 © 2019 UNIVERSAL PICTURES

Tiffany Haddish adds a distinctive layer as newcomer character Daisy. Teaming up with Hart’s Snowball, their plot thread offers the most in terms of excitement and comedic prowess as the two performers have terrific chemistry. Harrison Ford making his animated film debut turns up here as mature farm dog Rooster, presumably solely for a paycheck, however, he dominates the screen when utilized with a strong bravado that gravitates audiences eyes away from other characters. It’s just a shame he’s slightly underutilized, although considering how the film is structured you’d be hard pressed for any more inclusion.

The plot structure implemented here in The Secret Life of Pets 2 is unequivocally a disaster. It’s clear what the filmmakers intended by crafting three interconnected storylines for more depth and entertainment value, but the conviction is scrappy and incoherent. Feeling more so like three television episodes or short films that have been stitched together to fill out a running time. For an adult, the edit by Tiffany Hillkurtz, aside from being dull, isn’t difficult to follow, yet for the younger target audience, it’s going to be a slight problem. The film isn’t restraint and is throwing everything and all into scenes cutting back and forth in a constant state of ultrafast pacing, how a child is going to have both the patience or the interest to invest in such a convention is going to be a great test.

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Patton Oswalt as Max in The Secret Life of Pets 2 © 2019 UNIVERSAL PICTURES

Due to this suffocating narrative, The Secret Life of Pets 2 can never afford to breathe and slow itself down. Plot details in one storyline effects, that of the developing plot in the other two, and vice-versa. All three arcs are fighting for the limelight and to make matters worse they are all relatively dull with no spark, to begin with. The decision to split this film in the way it has been exercised is a brave decision, but the conviction of such is poor, and sadly makes The Secret Life of Pets 2 more of a chore than fun.

★★

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