The Secret Life of Pets 2

 

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Illuminations’ latest ‘toon is better than the first one but is still a strident, noisy affair.

   

The Secret Life of Pets 2

   

There are two reasons why The Secret Life of Pets 2 is better than the first film. Firstly, it subscribes to the philosophy that life is to be lived, regardless of the scrapes and bruises one encounters along the way. As Max, the genial Jack Russell, discovers: “Life is a big, scary, incredible world.” Secondly, the sequel introduces two engaging new characters, both of whom embody the same valuable message.

 

The gist of this animated franchise is that pets live a life above and beyond their owners’ comprehension. Not only do they see the world differently, but they get up to all sorts of mischief behind their humans’ backs. However, now that Max has accepted the company of Duke, the Newfoundland mix rescued from the pound by his owner, Katie, he and Duke have a new arrival of their own to contend with. Katie meets Chuck, falls in love, gets married, gets pregnant and produces a baby human, Liam. At first, Max resents the intrusion of this mini-human but then falls in love with him and decides it is his duty to protect Liam at all costs (cf. A Dog’s Journey). Only then does Max realise what a dangerous environment New York is for an inquisitive, hyperactive toddler.

 

At this point, the film divides into three separate strands, providing a trio of stories for the price of one. On a family outing to the countryside, Max is initially excited but then terrified of everything he doesn’t know or understand. Meanwhile, his favourite toy in the whole wide world, a squeaky bumblebee, is entrusted to Gidget, the Pomeranian who dotes on him. But she loses it in an apartment overrun by the scariest cats since the Siamese twins in Disney’s Lady and the Tramp. And then Snowball, the irritating, vainglorious white rabbit voiced by Kevin Hart, gets a superhero complex. However, Snowball’s cheap heroics are no match for the real-life situation he finds himself in when he and an intrepid shih-tzu (Tiffany Haddish) attempt to rescue a white tiger from the circus. This episode seems to have little bearing on the rest of the film, other than to provide Kevin Hart with additional quick-fire banter, which proves more exasperating than diverting.

 

The fun thing about cartoons, though, is trying to second-guess the actor or actress behind the voice. Here, a noble, worldly Welsh sheepdog called Rooster takes Max under his wing and proves a wonderful creation. His wise outlook and measured delivery is beautifully evoked by a voice that is instantly familiar. However, it wasn’t until the closing credits that I was put out of my frustration: Rooster is voiced by none other than Harrison Ford. Of course! Likewise, Tiffany Haddish’s fearless shih-tzu Daisy is another memorable character. She sees life as an opportunity, not an obstacle.

 

The animation, too, is of the highest order, particularly the wonderfully crafted street scenes and cityscapes of New York. But the film is also shrill, loud and overly violent, as if catering to the severest condition of ADHD in its youngest viewers. There is no charm here, and very little visual wit, shortcomings that thwarted the first film. Still, it is pacy and brash enough to engage the less discerning over the half-term, but is unlikely to merit too many repeated viewings on DVD.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Voices of  Patton Oswalt, Kevin Hart, Harrison Ford, Eric Stonestreet, Jenny Slate, Tiffany Haddish, Lake Bell, Nick Kroll, Dana Carvey, Ellie Kemper, Chris Renaud, Hannibal Buress, Bobby Moynihan, Pete Holmes, Meredith Salenger.

 

Dir Chris Renaud, Pro Chris Meledandri and Janet Healy, Screenplay Brian Lynch, Pro Des Colin Stimpson, Ed Tiffany Hillkurtz, Music Alexandre Desplat.

 

Universal Pictures/Illumination-Universal Pictures.

85 mins. USA/France/Japan. 2019. Rel: 24 May 2019. Cert. U.