By Richard Ades
Max and the rest of his furry friends are back in The Secret Life of Pets 2. Like its 2016 predecessor, the animated flick is an affectionate and occasionally funny look at the dogs, cats and assorted other animals who share our homes.
The sequel finds a few things have changed for Max, the good-natured mutt who shares a New York apartment with his beloved human, Katie (Ellie Kemper), and a giant-sized canine named Duke (Eric Stonestreet). For one, Max is now voiced by Patton Oswalt, replacing Louis C.K. (for obvious reasons).
A more substantial change happens after Katie meets and marries the amiable Chuck (Pete Holmes) and subsequently gives birth to a mischievous imp named Liam (Henry Lynch). Max has heard tales of how children ruin pets’ lives, and the stories seem to come true when Liam starts using him as a toy-slash-punching bag. But as the toddler grows, Max learns to love him—a little too much, in fact. He spends so much time worrying about the child’s welfare that he develops a nervous scratching habit and has to be fitted with the dreaded “cone.”
Again directed by Chris Renaud, the sequel continues the original’s lush visuals, depicting NYC with a series of warm-toned cityscapes and later turning the countryside into a verdant wonderland. Written by Brian Lynch, who co-wrote the original, it again builds to an action-packed finale. The main difference is that the original told basically one story, while the new film separates itself into a trio of concurrent tales before bringing the characters back together at the end.
In the main thread, we follow along as Max’s family pays a visit to Chuck’s uncle out in the country, where a tough farm dog (Harrison Ford) pushes the visitor to conquer his fears. Back in the city, Max’s Pomeranian friend, Gidget (Jenny Slate), has been left in charge of his favorite squeeze toy and is horrified when she accidentally lets it bounce into an apartment full of hostile cats. Determined to get it back, she asks neighbor cat Chloe (Lake Bell) for advice on how to pass as a feline. (First lesson: Cats don’t chase balls.)
In the most outlandish tale, a newly arrived dog named Daisy (Tiffany Haddish) is determined to rescue a tiger from a traveling circus and its abusive trainer (Nick Kroll). She enlists the help of the once-villainous Snowball (Kevin Hart), who is now living with a doting owner and fancies himself a bunny superhero.
As a result of its trio of stories, Pets 2 seems more scattered than its predecessor, but the characters are as lovable as always. Among the voice actors, Haddish mainly does an impression of herself, but most give their characters distinctive personalities.
What is the film’s prime audience? The later mayhem, complete with homages to kung fu and Three Stooges flicks, will mainly appeal to younger viewers. However, the gentle jokes about the quirks and neuroses of our animal pals should appeal to adults as well—especially those with pets of their own.
Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)
The Secret Life of Pets 2 (PG) opens June 6 or 7 at theaters nationwide.