Three years ago, Illumination (home of The Minions) revealed The Secret Life Of Pets, a film that promised much but delivered a lot less, with all the highlights squeezed into the trailer. For audiences, it left little to laugh at. But for the makers, the result was a box office of over $875 million worldwide, compared to a budget of around $75 million. A sequel was inevitable.
And a sequel is exactly what we’ve got, admittedly one with the least imaginative of titles, but it’s as if the makers have tried to address some of the problems with the first film – and with some success. The Secret Life Of Pets 2 sees the return of a number of familiar furry faces, not the least of which is Max (now voiced by Patton Oswalt), the little dog at the centre of all the action last time. He’s in the thick of it here too, having his life disrupted all over again, but this time by the arrival of a boyfriend for adored owner Katie, followed by their young son, Liam. Max becomes over-protective of the infant and starts suffering from stress, even when they go on holiday to the country. Elsewhere in the same apartment block, another character from part one, Snowball the rabbit (the voice of Kevin Hart) has delusions of being a superhero and gets tangled up in rescuing another animal from a cruel circus owner. Except he’s not really that heroic.
Not all the characters from part one are back, allowing director Chris Renaud, with help from first-timer Jonathan del Val, to deliver a more streamlined film and with the smaller cast list giving the characters more chance to develop. It also simplifies matters when the narrative splits into two parallel storylines. There is one new face, however, the big farm dog which Max and ever-enthusiastic buddy Duke (voiced by Eric Stonestreet) encounter while on vacation. He’s a cowboy in dog’s clothing, with all the values of the Wild West, and it’s no surprise that he answers to the name of Rooster. He’s voiced by Harrison Ford.
The fascination with the behaviour of cats, both good and bad, has been carried over from part one as well and anybody who’s been allowed to live with a feline will recognise these goings-on. The attempts of the supercilious grey Chloe (voiced to perfection by Lake Bell) to wake up her human (cats don’t have owners!) are all rooted in hilarious, if bitter, experience. While waiting to see the vet, Max encounters a stressed out cat who seems to have taken his behavioural cue from Community’s Senor Chang. Such a shame that he’s not voiced by Ken Jeong as well. And there’s the mandatory cat mob, this time slightly less menacing than before, who rule the roost belonging to a new, elderly resident in the block.
It’s while Max and his family are on holiday that the film’s narrative divides into two. As the little mutt discovers his courage, Snowball – sorry, Captain Snowball – is embroiled in being a hero and putting that malevolent circus owner in his place. The stories run in parallel and it works nicely but, once Max and co are back in the city helping Snowball save the day, there’s little else left to do, except give us a schmaltzy ending. And that’s exactly what we get. Something of a shame, really, because on the whole this is an improvement on the first film. Even Snowball is funnier than he was first time around.
The Secret Life Of Pets 2 is more family fodder for the Bank Holiday, this time with an eye on the younger end of the market. It should happily keep them entertained, with enough topicality to satisfy the mandatory adults in the audience. But this is a week when both Aladdin and Rocketman have also opened in the UK – and two days in advance as well. Will this give them a run for their money? Possibly. More than a bunny hop, anyway.
Freda Cooper | [rating=3]
Animation, Comedy | Cert: U | UK, 24 May (2019) | Disney | Dirs. Chris Renaud, Jonathan del Val | The voices of Patton Oswalt, Kevin Hart, Harrison Ford, Eric Stonestreet, Tiffany Haddish, Lake Bell, Dana Carvey, Nick Kroll.