Uninteresting, episodic 'Pets 2' lacks magic, imagination of original

BY NEIL MORRIS, CN+R Film Critic
Posted 6/9/19

The Secret Lives of Pets 2

Grade: C

Director: Chris Renaud

Starring the voices of: Patton Oswalt, Eric Stonestreet, Kevin Hart, Jenny Slate, Tiffany Haddish, Lake Bell, Nick Kroll, Dana …

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Uninteresting, episodic 'Pets 2' lacks magic, imagination of original

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The saying goes that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. So it is with “The Secret Lives of Pets 2,” a bottom line-driven sequel that forgets the fact that secret lives aren’t as interesting when they’re not secret anymore. Instead, we get a lazy episodic narrative involving the same characters as the original doing a watered-down version of the same hijinks. There aren’t nearly enough new additions to this animated animal milieu, and the few thrown in are familiar voices who are just along for the ride.

In the years since the last film, single gal Katie (Ellie Kemper) has married a guy and had a kid named Liam. You’d expect the inevitable plot about her two dogs Max (Patton Oswalt, assuming Louis C.K.’s previous voice role for reasons obvious to anyone who can search the Internet) and Duke (Eric Stonestreet) now feeling like second fiddles. Instead, director Chris Renaud and writer Brian Lynch distill any of that tension down to Max feeling some overprotective, big-city anxiety over Liam. That sets up a humorous, yet brief visit to a pet shrink, who outfits Max with a cone to keep him from nervously scratching himself. It also seques into a purposeless family trip to a farm owned by Katie’s uncle. A smattering of animal archetypes are introduced: a smart aleck cow, dimwitted sheep, and crazed turkey. But nothing substantive or amusing is made from this seemingly bountiful setting besides Rooster (Harrison Ford), a gruff country canine who’s the de facto king of the barnyard and is here to scare some courage into Max.

Back in the city, Gidget (Jenny Slate) loses Max’s beloved squeeze toy into an elderly lady’s apartment, also home to a horde of stir-crazy cats. So Gidget the Pomeranian recruits the help of turgid tabby Chloe (Lake Bell) — the lone source of genuine chuckles — to pose as a feline and infiltrate the hoarder’s haven. Meanwhile, former flushed rabbit Snowball (Kevin Hart), now moonlighting as a superhero name Captain Snowball for some reason, is approached by a Shih Tzu named Daisy (Tiffany Haddish) to help free a caged white tiger named Hu from an abusive circus owner, Sergei (Nick Kroll).

A dynamic develops in which too much time is dedicated to uninteresting plots threads like Gidget’s recovery mission, stealing time away a storyline like Max’s farm visit that needed far more development. Snowball’s rescue effort is little more than an excuse to team the talented Hart and Haddish together, a pairing of comic flibbertigibbets that doesn’t guarantee success (see: “Night School”) and, in this film, runs its course in about two minutes.

The three plotlines eventually intersect, but that forced merger merely raises more questions than answers. Why is no person even curious, much less petrified, when a white tiger and Sergei’s quartet of wolves are running loose through the middle of New York City? At film’s end, what’s stopping Sergei and said wolves from tracking down Hu again? What’s the deal with Katie’s uncle, and what the heck did the family do at the farm?

Illumination Entertainment would have been better served carving the movie into three separate vignettes instead of stitching them together. Instead, “The Secret Lives of Pets 2” marks time through its mercifully efficient 86-minute running time without attempting to compensate for or replicate the sense of discovery from the original film — that opportunity is squandered at the family farm. Moreover, totally missing is any of the fantastical animals’ perspective on the human world from the first film, a viewpoint that illuminated our lives as much as our pets.

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