Genre: CG Animation
Director: Chris Renaud
Cast: Kevin Hart, Tiffany Haddish, Harrison Ford, Patton Oswalt, Eric Stonestreet, Jenny Slate, Lake Bell, Hannibal Buress, Nick Kroll, Dana Carvey, Ellie Kemper, Pete Holmes, Garth Jennings, Bobby Moynihan
Runtime: 1 hr 26 mins
Released By: UIP
Official Website: www.thesecretlifeofpets.com
Opening Day: 30 May 2019
Synopsis: Illumination’s tenth animated feature, The Secret Life of Pets 2, is the highly anticipated sequel to the 2016 comedic blockbuster that had the biggest opening weekend ever for an original film, animated or otherwise. Packed with Illumination’s signature irreverence and subversive humor, this new chapter explores the emotional lives of our pets, the deep bond between them and the families that love them, and answers the question that has long intrigued every pet owner: What are your pets really doing when you’re not at home?
Terrier Max (Patton Oswalt) is coping with some major life changes. His owner (Ellie Kemper) is now married and has a toddler, Liam. Max is so worried about protecting the boy that he develops a nervous tic. On a family trip to a farm, Max and mutt Duke (Eric Stonestreet) encounter canine-intolerant cows, hostile foxes and a terrifying turkey, all of which only elevates Max’s anxiety. Luckily, Max gets some guidance from veteran farm dog Rooster (Harrison Ford, making his animated-film debut), who pushes Max to ditch his neuroses, find his inner alpha, and give Liam a little more freedom.
Meanwhile, while her owner is away, plucky Pomeranian Gidget (Jenny Slate) tries to rescue Max’s favorite toy from a cat-packed apartment with a little help from her feline friend, Chloe (Lake Bell), who has discovered the joys of catnip. And crazy-but-cute bunny Snowball (Kevin Hart) gets delusions of grandeur that he’s an actual superhero after his owner Molly starts dressing him in superhero pajamas. But when Daisy (Tiffany Haddish), a fearless Shih Tzu, shows up to ask for Snowball’s help on a dangerous mission, he’ll have to summon the courage to become the hero he’s only been pretending to be.
Can Max, Snowball, Gidget and the rest of the gang find the inner courage to face their biggest fears?
At the core of Illumination’s ‘The Secret Life of Pets’ is an intriguing proposition – do we really know what our pets are up to when we’re out of the house? But an idea does not a movie make, and the team behind ‘Despicable Me’ and ‘Minions’ found themselves stuffing it full of frenetic visual gags that frankly stretched the potential of its set-up beyond 90 minutes. Surprisingly – and thankfully – the same creative team which returns for the inevitable sequel has decidedto opt for a far less frenzied pace this time round, choosing wit and heart over plain hijinks to fashion an equally cheery but far less exhausting experience.
Once again leading the motley pack of pet creatures, who mostly live on different floors in a New York City apartment building, is the Jack Russell terrier Max (Patton Oswalt, replacing comedian Louis C.K. for obvious reasons). Max’s narration at the beginning highlights how his life has changed ever since his owner Katie (Ellie Kemper) meets Chuck; not only do they get married, they will soon have a baby son named Liam, whom Max is initially wary of but will grow overprotective over. His anxiety causes him to develop the habit of scratching himself vigorously, so much so that Katie schedules Max a visit to the vet that he emerges from with a cone around his neck.
Max’s coming-of-age journey happens over an out-of-town family holiday to a farm, whereupon he meets the tough sheepdog Rooster (Harrison Ford, perfectly gruff) and eventually learns a thing or two about himself. We won’t spoil what Max goes through in order to get over his own worries, but we will say that Max’s story is told with much charm and pathos. In between imparting a couple of lessons about helicopter parenting, director Chris Renaud throws in a number of laugh-out-loud moments, including one with a cow who rejects her stereotype with spot-on sarcasm and another with a turkey of stalkerish tendencies.
Unlike its predecessor though, the plot here avoids cramming too much into an otherwise more elegant storyline; instead, writer Brian Lynch injects two other subplots clearly intended for comedy and action. The former sees the fluffball Pomeranian Gidget attempting to retrieve her beau’s favourite toy from a cat lady’s apartment, a mission that has her learning how to behave like a cat from the cantankerous tubby tabby Chloe (Lake Bell). That montage where she has to resist her canine instincts, as well as the quest itself which finds great fun in the red dot of a laser pointer, is enough to justify the presence of this segment, which is the relatively stronger one out of the two fillers.
In contrast, the other featuring manic bunny Snowball’s (Kevin Hart) superhero adventure to rescue a timid snow tiger cub from the clutches of a diabolical Russian circus owner (Nick Kroll) feels utterly throwaway. Even with newcomer Tiffany Hadish as a fearless Shih Tzu, the humour in these scenes is lacking, such that they exist only to keep the less attentive kids in the audience happy; in particular, so that the film concludes on an action-packed note, the extended finale sees all of these pets come together to help Snowball free the cub from on board a moving train. The kids will probably enjoy the excitement, but we frankly prefer the sweet, silly and heartwarming parts that come before.
Still, there’ll be no disagreement about the quality of the animation, which is as outstanding as anything you’ve seen from Illumination. Like the first movie, Renaud chooses a bright, sparkling and radiant colour palette to keep the mood light, jovial and buoyant. The detail on each of the animals is amazing, not only in how natural their fur and movements are, but also how these movements are employed with utter subtlety to convey their very human personalities. It is too easy to take these achievements for granted, but you’ll only need to look outside the Minion house to appreciate their technical accomplishments here.
Compared with the original, we must say we prefer this sequel, which tones down the mania for clever laughs and gentle sentimentality. Those here just for the adventure will be satisfied with a fair number of energetic set-pieces, and those looking for more will likely take to the less hectic but wittier moments. As a summer popcorn movie for the whole family, it’s perfectly pleasant entertainment that both parents and kids alike can share in, with an epilogue of the weird and wacky antics our real-life pets can get up to which will surely resonate with anyone who owns/ ever owned a pet.
(Less frantic but wittier and more heartwarming, this sequel will win you over with its sweet, silly and delightfully amusing moments)
Review by Gabriel Chong