By: Hawk Ripjaw (Four Beers) –
When The Secret Life of Pets 2 opens, Max (Patton Oswalt, who replaces Louis CK here) and Duke (Eric Stonestreet) now live happily together with their owner Katie. Over the course of a couple of minutes, Katie (Ellie Kemper) suddenly gets married and has a kid (it really do be like that sometimes—have you been on Facebook recently?). Max is deeply protective of the kid, consistently worried about his well-being to the point where it earns him a Cone of Shame to stop him scratching himself.
Katie announces that they’re going to be taking a road trip to her husband’s parents, who live on a farm. This only increases Max’s anxiety, as the sounds of the wildlife (including a turkey that follows him around constantly) nearly drive him over the edge. The family’s Sheepdog, Rooster (Harrison Ford), isn’t having any of Max’s shit and immediately starts criticizing him for his anxiety and imparting gruff life lessons.
Before Max left on his trip, he tasked his wannabe lover/stalker, Pomeranian Gidget (Jenny Slate) with protecting his favorite toy, a bumblebee squeaker called Busy Bee. Gidget enthusiastically accepts the task. The next day, Gidget is sleeping with the toy and having a very vivid dream about getting it on with Max. She gets too hot and squeezes the toy so hard to blasts off from her grasp and bounces several stories down the fire escape. It falls right into the apartment of the cat lady to end all cat ladies.
This den of horrors is populated by hordes of screeching felines, while their owner blankly watches television. The cats scuffle over the toy, racing around a living space that seems much larger on the inside than it looked from outside.
In a very special “Animal Cruelty Edition” plot thread, Snowball the Bunny (Kevin Hart) has been dressed up by his new owner as a superhero. Now, if you remember from the first movie, Snowball is kind of a psychopath, or at the very least deeply deluded. In his hyperactive imagination, he is now an actual superhero. Word somehow gets around that he’s an actual superhero, so he’s approached by Daisy (Tiffany Haddish), a Shih Tzu who, let’s be honest, looks high as fuck all the time.
Daisy needs Snowball’s help rescuing Hu, a white tiger who is so adorable it should be a crime, who has been kidnapped by a sadistic carnival owner named Sergei (Nick Kroll). This carnival owner has a Russian accent, wears all black, looks literally like Gru from Despicable Me tried keto, owns three evil snarling wolves, and is openly comfortable with inflicting harm on animals. Literally all of the bad guy boxes are getting checked off here. I think the only one that’s missing is that he doesn’t want to marry his nephew’s girlfriend for her fortune. But if he had a nephew, and that nephew had a girlfriend with a fortune, I’m sure he’d be thirsty.
Will Max overcome his anxiety? Will Gidget learn to act like a cat and rescue Max’s toy? Will Snowball and Daisy be able to rescue Hu? Is there any reason to care?
The first movie had a few instances of some pretty wacky character design, but the sequel really doubles down on this, with a consistent drip feed of cameos from cats and dogs that look ridiculously cracked out. We’re talking gigantic bulging eyes and “I just did a huge line of coke” erratic jitters. Overall, the character design and animation is colorful and creative, and miles ahead of what the writing is capable of doing for them.
There are also some odd and engaging moments of horror: Max’s first night outdoors at the farm is a montage of nightmarish noises in the dark, and the carnival wolves return to that classic Disney flavor of “these animals are evil and they’re going to fucking kill you.” Sergei the carnival owner is armed with a whip in one hand and a Taser in the other, and has no problem threatening animals throughout the movie. That seemed a bit heavy for a kid’s movie, especially one that is so otherwise benign.
The best thread of the movie is Gidget attempting to retrieve Max’s toy from the apartment full of cats, chiefly because the reveal of the cats is almost played like straight horror, with gigantic yellow-great eyes popping out of the darkness as hundreds of snarling, hissing felines burst from tapestries and décor. The cats growl and contort, and when one of them notices Gidget, it makes a noise and a pose that literally startled me.
Eventually, Gidget, posing as a cat after receiving training from Chloe(Lake Bell), stages a scene in which she eats the laser pointer dot and is hailed the Queen of Cats. This entire thread is bizarre and inspired, achieving a level of energy that the rest of the film never manages to match.
Honestly, there are a couple of laugh-out-loud moments, with most of them coming from that cat apartment and another involving a painfully adorable fluffy baby lamb named Cotton (Sean Giambrone). Cotton, when hanging above a chasm on a crumbling tree and moments from plummeting to his death, cheerfully declares that his foot is stuck.
The script and story for this film are woefully problematic and paper-thin. The problems become apparent immediately, where the film opens with one of the most egregious exposition dumps I’ve seen in a mainstream film in a very long time.
The first film ends with Max finally accepting Duke as his brother/best friend and they live happily together with their owner Katie.
This film’s FIRST FIVE MINUTES (OR LESS) begin like this:
Katie meets a guy, and they start dating, and then they get married, and then she gets pregnant, then she has a kid, and then the kid is a little monster for a while and then he’s okay, and Max is super protective of the kid’s safety and it gives him anxiety.
All this in a couple of minutes with Max narrating.
How’s the guy? Who is the guy? The very original idea for the first Secret Life of Pets was a murder mystery, so what if this guy is the murderer? We don’t know anything about him. Do we need to be afraid for Katie? What’s the deal with this kid?
The movie doesn’t care! Stop asking questions! Fuck you!
I rewatched parts of the original Secret Life of Pets after watching this one, because I seem to remember the original movie being a little bit formless in terms of actually having a real story. This isn’t entirely accurate, but the movie does have a strong air of “Toy Story, but with animals.” This, however, is a poorly stitched-together collection of several smaller threads that never pull together. It feels very much like it originated as a TV show, and then three of the episodes just got gathered up with no thought to any connective tissue. When the characters all come together for the finale, it is neither cohesive nor earned because there was no main thread to unite the storylines and therefore no real reason for them to converge.
It’s boring! It is abundantly clear that the movie does not care much about its characters. Just as the movie opens with a hasty exposition dump to avoid too much storytelling work in building Katie’s family, it closes without much effort put into character development. Max’s thread is probably the most insulting: the majority of the movie is spent on the farm with Max trying to conquer his neuroses and Rooster progressively more frustrated as he has to deal with it. But there’s one brief eventful turning point, Max is cured, and Rooster immediately respects him. Max is a changed dog, just like that. The stakes are low, save for the climactic rescue mission to save Hu from Sergei, but that tension doesn’t feel very genuine, either.
The Secret Life of Pets 2 isn’t a bad movie, but it’s mostly unengaging and fails to justify itself beyond an 80-minute distraction for the kids. It’s frustrating that the amount of potential mileage that could arise from this universe—animal behavior when humans are away, meme-worthy character design and humor, and the personality and verticality of New York—is hardly realized or even attempted. There is some goofy humor and fun animation and design, but like a lot of Illumination’s recent output, there’s a curious lack of ambition. And “It’s okay” just doesn’t cut it when, in the very same month, the fourth entry in a nearly-flawless and timeless different animated franchise celebrates its 24th year of masterful, thematic storytelling. If you don’t aspire for that, at least make something with a little more spark.
The Secret Life of Pets 2 (2019) Movie Drinking Game
Take a Drink: every time an animal does something that animal would do.
Do a Shot: for each new appearance of another deranged-looking animal
Take a Drink: for every instance of Puppy Dog Eyes