To start my review, I’m letting you know right now that I didn’t like the original film, so if you want to ditch my review after this sentence, just know that if you liked the first, you are going to love THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS 2. Now while I did not love the sequel, I will say that, in my opinion, it is vastly superior to the original, for a whole bunch of reasons, but also for a whole bunch of reasons, I didn’t necessarily like it that much anyway. My tiny almost two year old son enjoys it, and so if we want to keep him calm, cool, and collected, I have no problem putting this on as he sat through the whole thing, attention dead center, the first time. For comparison, he’s up and about doing other things by minute 10 in the original. But considering I did not laugh at all, find the plot interesting or coherent, or enjoy looking at the animation in the first one, and laughed out loud several times, liked some of the plot, and enjoyed the some look of this one, I’ll consider any kind of improvement welcome in this case.
And don’t listen to my pessimistic ass at all if you and your family (especially the little ones) enjoyed the first one and haven’t seen and are looking forward to this (digitally it is out now, physical or rent-able in one to two weeks). I look too hard into these things. I really liked Incredibles 2 when it first came out, yet now I pick it apart like a fine tooth comb, and I didn’t like Finding Nemo at first but over time have come to appreciate it as a classic (the sequel, not so much), so my taste is all over the fucking place with animated/kids films. I like to say that I have an eye for some good storytelling though, and that’s why I didn’t really like the first film. When you sit me down and tell me that I’m going to watch a movie called The Secret Life of Pets, I expect a fun little adventure of some over-the-top albeit somewhat realistic adventure of what pets really do, think, behave and what-not while we are gone. The first film started out like that, with a couple of minor slight chuckle worthy jokes, but then Max the dog and the new dog in his life Duke go on this bizarre zany adventure where they end up in a sewer filled with all sorts of exotic animals, I think they drive a damn truck at one point (I don’t remember as I’ve only seen it fully once in the theater and then in passing as my wife has it on in the background for my son while he plays in the living room), and, I don’t know, it just didn’t feel like pets were living out a “secret life” in front of me.
Universal and Illumination were just plastering these pets on the screen and pointed and yelled in your face, “look, it’s cute fucking pets doing weird fucking pet shit while you are gone and then they go on this lazy awkward adventure, BUT LOOK HOW FUCKING CUTE THEY ARE, WE EVEN GOT KEVIN HART TO YELL INTO THE MICROPHONE AS A CUTE PET BUNNY, WE WILL KILL YOU ALL WITH THIS CUTENESS!” It may have worked on most of you, but for me, I turned to the filmmakers and answered back, “Why….why are you yelling at me?” The first film wasn’t terrible, it just didn’t work, and I found it maybe one step above the filth that are animated films that come and go out of theaters and no one hears from again, i.e. Ugly Dolls. Basically, not shit, just dull. Uninspired. So since my wife really liked the first movie, she’s seen it several times, and since we own it, unfortunately I knew that we’d have to own the sequel, because of my sequel rule (Rule: If you own the theatrical original, you have to own the theatrical sequels, although direct-to-video shit doesn’t count). But curiosity of course killed my inner cat and was wondering how the fuck would they make a sequel to a really dull original film?
Well, turns out, they fixed some of their mistakes. Notice I said some, as there is one part of the multiple plotted sequel that I didn’t care for, and all the stories ended up colliding with the part I didn’t care for, which made me really not like the 3rd act, but we’ll get to that in a second. Let me explain the three plots. Plot A: Max and Duke’s owner marries a guy, they have a kid together, and Max ends up caring so much for the kid that he thinks the outside world is dangerous, goes neurotic, and he ends up going to a vet, and then they end up visiting the husband’s brother and his ranch, who has a dog voiced by Han Solo, that teaches Max to bulk up yet calm the fuck down about life in general. Plot B: Chloe and Snowball meet Daisy, voiced by Tiffany Haddish because she’s getting all the roles after Girl’s Trip, and assist her in rescuing a white bengal Tiger from this circus owner and his insane wolves and pet monkey who are about to turn him into a rug if he doesn’t turn tricks at the circus shows. Meanwhile Snowball was dressed as a superhero at the beginning of the film and wants to prove he is actually one. Plot C: Gidget promises to keep Max’s favorite toy, Busy Bee, safe while he is gone out to that ranch, but she loses it to this old lady’s posse of cats, so with the help of Norman and lessons from Chloe, learns to be a cat to try and retrieve the toy back.
Sounds like a lot of plot huh? Will it surprise you when I reveal that even after the mid credits scene this movie is only an hour and 20 minutes long? I know right? Somehow though, they manage to pull it off even though it all feels too stuffy, where they could’ve added an extra fifteen minutes with Max, Harrison Ford, and the ranch to have it more well rounded (my favorite plot of the three plots btw). Guess which was my least favorite of the three? That’s right, Kevin Hart’s Snowball. How Kevin Hart doesn’t have a fucking migraine after his voice sessions is beyond my reason of understanding as he literally yells all of his fucking lines the entire film. It’s SOOO annoying, but I guess you can chalk it up to the fact that I’m not the biggest Kevin Hart fan around. But it isn’t just him, it’s his plot. The other two plots I enjoyed because it displayed the “secret” life of these pets and had jokes that I felt that landed, were a little over-the-top but also had their foot inside the door of some grounded realism. The Snowball plot? Ridiculous from the get go. And unfortunately for the 3rd act, Plots A and C I felt wrapped up too quickly and those characters took the lessons they learned quite fast so the whole thing could integrate into plot B and have that as the climax. And since I didn’t like Plot B, you can tell my enthusiasm of having it be the ultimate capper for the film.
What the filmmakers should have done was have plots B and C integrate into a more daring and elaborate Plot A climax. There was a bunch of stuff that could’ve happened on the ranch that Max and Duke went to that could’ve combined all three stories. But instead, they chose to go with Kevin Hart and Snowball since they feel that the audience force laughs to that the best. Where if they really paid attention they would’ve realized we laughed the best to the naturally organic jokes in Plots A and C and did something to that. In fact, I think that Snowball’s plot could’ve been completely thrown out the window and expanded on the other two to make a much stronger and superior sequel. But with Hollywood, and me looking in on the ultimate outsides of outside, I have literally no say in the matter, so I took what I could get. I really liked Plots A and C, and loved Harrison Ford’s new dog character Rooster. It seemed like Ford actually fucking tried. And the pets did funny pet-inspired things, none of them tried to be a fucking bunny that was aiming to be a wacky angry superhero straight out of a Zack Snyder movie. The white bengal tiger was cute but the wolves, the nasty circus owner and his pet monkey were dull to the point of being abysmal. Also, of course with there being a lot of plot, some characters from the first are going to get very limited screentime in the second, the one most effected is Duke, who literally does almost nothing. But I guess his story was really just the first film…and they basically wrapped his entire character arc up with it.
The animation, especially in the forest and outside at the ranch seemed more intricate and inspired. And the voice acting was pretty good. Patton Oswalt did his best to sound like sexual abuser Louis C.K. and not the rat from Ratatouille. Even though Tiffany Haddish voice is very recognizable she seemed into it and not just reading off paper. Jenny Slate and Harrison Ford were the true winners here though. Like I said, Kevin Hart was annoying with his yelling and Nick Kroll added nothing the evil circus owner we’ve heard a billion times before. Out of curiosity, I went to the “always reliable” Rotten Tomatoes. The critics are nuts on this and the audience score is telling me everything I needed to know and confirm. Critics liked the first film better, the score 73% to 59%. The audience score for me tells it like how I personally felt (albeit with much lower numbers for both). 62% for the first film, but a whopping 90% for the second film. I don’t think Universal’s Illumination Animation has had a great film since the very first Despicable Me. If the writers try even harder when the inevitable The Secret Life of Pets 3 comes out, maybe third time’s the charm to add a second great animated film to their roster?