Wednesday, November 6, 2019

The Secret Life of Pets 2: A Review


How secret can the lives of pets be once we got a peek into what they do when humans are not around? The Secret Life of Pets 2 is essentially three stories in one film where they are brought together at the very end, perhaps not particularly well. Despite that, its charming and pleasant enough to entertain the target audience.

Story One: New York City dogs Max (Patton Oswalt, replacing Louis C.K.) and Duke (Eric Stonestreet) are living the high life until their owner Katie (Ellie Kemper) finds love with a man named Chuck (Pete Holmes). More worrisome is that they've had a son, Liam, but despite their worries Max and Duke take to Chuck and Liam.

There is a hitch, however, in that Max is becoming more anxious about the dangers all around Liam, causing him so much tension he's forced to wear a cone to stop his incessant scratching. Perhaps a trip to the country to visit Chuck's uncle would help, but the countryside has its own dangers and worries. Chief among them is Rooster (Harrison Ford), a Welsh sheepdog who finds Max in particular a most un-doglike creature. Rooster informally mentors Max into facing his myriad of fears.

Story Two is that of Gidget (Jenny Slate), the Pomeranian still wildly in love with Max. He asks her to take care of his favorite toy, Busy Bee, while he's away; lost in her own romantic ideas of Max however, she accidentally lets Busy Bee fall into a cat-lady's apartment. With some coaching from Chloe (Lake Bell), Gidget tries to be a cat to infiltrate this world, with varying degrees of success.

Image result for the secret life of pets 2Story Three is of Snowball (Kevin Hart), the bunny who has a 'secret identity' as Captain Snowball, superhero. A little Shih Tzu, Daisy (Tiffany Haddish) comes to ask for Captain Snowball's help in rescuing Hu, a white tiger being abused in a circus by Sergei (Nick Kroll), evil Russian. Snowball and Daisy manage to rescue Hu, and now must help find him a new home while avoiding Sergei, his wolves and his pet monkey.

The stories all collide when Max and Duke return from the country, with everyone joining forces to save Hu from almost certain death.

The Secret Life of Pets 2 feels less like a feature film and more like an anthology series where various episodes were strung together and tied together by the thinnest of threads. You do wonder how and even if the three could come together in a cohesive whole given that one, in theory, could have made a whole film about each without involving the other two.

I think the reason they did end up together was because in the end you had to have the various pets put together. Yes, it would have been easier to focus on Max, Duke and Rooster, along with the various new farm animals that showed up, but where would either Gidget or Snowball fit in? I figure they were as equally popular, with Snowball's mix of oddball rage and adorable bunny being particularly popular with children.

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Did it always work? No, as sometimes you had so much in one story you pretty much forgot about the other two, something that kept happening.

This, however, is not a slam on The Secret Life of Pets 2, as on the whole the film was light and entertaining. Each story had its moments of humor and delight, ranging from Max's almost Woody Allen-like neuroses to Gidget ending up as "Queen of the Cats" to the almost dynamic duo of Snowball and Daisy (the former being the bragging but inept hero, the latter his Girl Friday). I admit the final confrontation between Snowball and the monkey made me laugh, so there's that.

You had some good performances from both the returning and new cast-members. Oswalt, in my view, is better than C.K. as Max, bringing a warmer, softer touch to our more overwhelmed terrier. Ford's gruff alpha dog was understated but effective in his dismissive but wise manner. Hart was his usual loud and outrageous self, but knowing in how as a kid's film he used Snowball's frenetic manner to good effect.

Haddish (the only voice I instantly recognized) was quite pleasant as Daisy, making it believable that she would be both smarter than Snowball but sincere in his superhero abilities.

The Secret Life of Pets 2 also has some strong positive messages. Max learns that when it comes to danger real or imagined, you can either 'run from it or run at it'. Rooster's worldview about not sheltering or protecting children from minor dangers  but saving them from real dangers is a good one too. He understood the difference between Liam theoretically falling out of a tree and keeping a small sheep from falling off a cliff.

To Max, they would be the same, but he learns that you cannot and maybe should not protect the little ones from all dangers, just ones they would not recover from.

I would wonder if the suggestion of Chloe being 'high on catnip' might be a bit much, but here again I may be overthinking things.

The Secret Life of Pets 2 isn't original but it's cute enough. Endearing, knowing, appropriately exaggerated, it is serviceable to its target audience.


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