Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Movie Review: The Secret Life of Pets 2

The Secret Life of Pets 2 ** ½ / *****
Directed by: Chris Renaud and Jonathan del Val.
Written by: Brian Lynch.
Starring: Patton Oswalt (Max), Eric Stonestreet (Duke), Kevin Hart (Snowball), Jenny Slate (Gidget), Ellie Kemper (Katie), Lake Bell (Chloe), Dana Carvey (Pops), Hannibal Buress (Buddy), Bobby Moynihan (Mel), Harrison Ford (Rooster), Tiffany Haddish (Daisy), Pete Holmes (Chuck), Nick Kroll (Sergei), Tara Strong (Sweetpea), Chris Renaud (Norman), Henry Lynch (Liam), Sean Giambrone (Cotton), Meredith Salenger (Cat Lady).
It seems to me that one of the big problems with animated sequels – sequels in general really – is that when you have a successful first entry, filmmakers try way too hard to squeeze in all the characters and elements that people loved in the first film into the second, even if they aren’t really necessary, while still trying to tell a new story. And the result often looks like The Secret Life of Pets 2, which feels overstuffed and under baked at the same time. The 2016 original film was fun and delightful – not a great film, but a fun one – and had a simple idea for a film – documenting what our pets do with their time when we’re all off at work or school, and what happens when a dog who is used to being by himself, suddenly has to share – his partner, his human – with a big, dumb interloper in the form of another dog.
At first, it seems like The Secret Life of Pets 2 will simply repeat the first film – but instead of a big dumb dog entering the realm of Max (now played by Patton Oswalt, instead of Louis C.K. – and thankfully my kids didn’t ask why Max sounded different “You see kids, the original voice of Max like to play all by himself – which is fine – but then he made others watch him as he played, and that isn’t very nice”) – it’s Baby Liam. Thankfully though, after a brief prologue where it seems like Max won’t like Liam, he falls head over heels for him. So much so that he becomes paranoid about letting Liam out of his site – and develops a nervous tick when he is. The central family here travels from New York to a farm for a vacation – where Max had to learn, from Rooster (Harrison Ford) to stop worrying, and take control.
That’s one plot – but the movie adds in two more, but that’s the only way to shoehorn in the characters you loved in the first film. So the second plot involves bunny Snowball (Kevin Hart) thinking he is a superhero, who is “hired” by Daisy (Tiffany Haddish – delightful), a small dog, who wants to set her new friend – a Siberian tiger – free from a travelling zoo. The third plot involves Gidget (Jenny Slate), who needs to get Max’s favorite ball back from the apartment of the crazy cat lady, Miraculously, the film somehow finds a way to bring these three plots together for its big action climax.
Odd for a movie aimed at kids, the primary message here seems to be aimed at parents – its about letting your kids go, letting them grow up and experience the world, in all its good and bad ways, so they can find their way through it. I kind of thought that at some point the movie may criticize, a little, Rooster’s no-nonsense, unfeeling approach to parenting, but no, it doesn’t. It comes across a little scoldy – like a Gen Xer, telling the stupid Millennials how to live their lives, how to behave, and act, etc. Perhaps finding a middle ground between the two styles would have been more effective.
And maybe, the film could have gotten there, but it’s so busy jumping around between the three different storylines – the better to shoehorn in all the characters from the first film - no matter how amusing it is to see Pops (Dana Carvey) teaching a roomful of puppies how to behave is, it feels particularly forced, and particularly like brand extension – to introduce a lot of cute new characters that they are make stuffies out of for you to buy.
Basically, the film kind of feels like three episodes of a cartoon show glued together with a strange climax to bring them all together. It’s like the TV series based on Trolls or The Boss Baby (which, yes, I have watched – my kids love them, especially Boss Baby). That may work for a time waster of a Netflix show that you put on for your kids when you need to make dinner, or just need to make them shut up, but as a movie, it feels rushed and forced and unsatisfying. Will kids like – sure. My five-year-old found it hilarious that Pickles pooped in a boot. If you’re looking for something more than poop/boot based humor however, than The Secret Life of Pets 2 is pretty disappointing.

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