Paws for Effect – ‘The Secret Life of Pets 2’ (Film Review)

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Illumination Entertainment have certainly delivered when it comes to making movies that the whole family can enjoy, to the tune of billions of dollars. While the Despicable Me franchise may be predominantly responsible for that success, the performance of The Secret Life of Pets in 2016 cannot be underestimated. The film went on to gross over $800 million world-wide, becoming that year’s most profitable release. A sequel was inevitable, so here we are three years later to enjoy some more family-friendly four-legged frolics.

Jack Russell Terrier, Max (voiced this time out by Patton Oswalt, replacing Louis C.K. for reasons we won’t go into here) is having to come to terms with some changes at home. Not only has he had to get used to sharing his apartment with another dog, Duke (Eric Stonestreet), but his owner Katie (Ellie Kemper) grows the family even more by getting married and having a child named Liam. When Max becomes anxious due to feeling protective over Liam, the family decide to get away from the city to unwind.

Much like the first film, The Secret Life of Pets 2 operates on quite an episodic level in terms o structure. While there is the main plotline following Max and his family, there are also plenty of other furry antics happening elsewhere, with Kevin Hart’s rabbit Snowball teaming up with Shih Tzu Daisy (Tiffany Haddish) to save a white tiger from a circus, while Jenny Slate’s Gidget has to learn how to be a cat in order to rescue Max’s favourite toy that’s she’s been tasked with protecting.

It all leads to a colourfully designed adventure that’s light on its feet, very silly, but also rather sweet. Many of the scenes essentially operate as comedy bits, with different segments either deciding to focus on broad slapstick comedy (largely involving Hart’s rather irritating bunny) or on wittily articulated expressions of just what it is our pets are thinking.

Likewise with the first film, this sequel is at its best when it is playing upon the sometimes odd but endearing behaviour of our pets. From a trip to the vets, to going on a journey in the car, it is in the smaller more grounded details and observations of animal behaviour that the film really connects. Much of this comes from Max’s storyline, although the plot-line of connecting with the new child of the family becomes side-lined for less emotionally engaging tangent about Max becoming brave (following the example of Harrison Ford’s sheep dog Rooster).

The film certainly dedicates more time to developing an adventure that gets new and old characters mingling in a pretty routine rescue tale that often feels a little half-baked, particularly when it ends up prioritising that kind of story-telling over something that could be a little more emotionally resonant.

That’s always been the key difference with Illumination Entertainment and their Disney counterpart, Pixar. Where Pixar often aim to push the colourful adventure forward into places of thematic richness, Illumination tends to go down the safer route that won’t provoke too much of a reaction from the little ones beyond chuckles and ‘aww’s’. While there’s nothing wrong with that approach, it can mean that these films feel more tedious for older audience members than some of their animated counterparts.

That being said, The Secret Life of Pets 2 does get some decent mileage from its cute and funny approach. It would take a hard heart not to be won over by some of the characters here, particularly the relationship between Max and new baby Liam. On a design level as well, this film is often delightful to behold, with Alexandre Desplat’s score (I know, right!?) adding a great level of energy, wit and joy.

While more strictly for the kids than other animated offerings out there, The Secret Life of Pets 2 is still undeniably sweet and a perfectly harmless time that aims to please through bright design, fun gags and witty observations about the animals that we love in our lives.

Dir: Chris Renaud

Scr: Brian Lynch

Cast: Patton Oswalt, Eric Stonestreet, Kevin Hart, Jenny Slate, Tiffany Haddish, Lake Bell, Nick Kroll, Dana Carvey and Harrison Ford

Prd: Chris Meledandri and Janet Healy

Music: Alexandre Desplat

Country: United States

Year: 2019

Runtime: 86 minutes

The Secret Life of Pets 2 is released in UK cinemas on 24th May.

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