Illumination Studios likes to brand itself as a powerhouse animation studio, like a Pixar or even DreamWorks, but they are still yet to really be a brand on the same plane as the others. The one thing they are geniuses at is aggressive marketing, so that even if you don’t have children they make sure you know about their movies; you can’t walk into a cinema without knowing ‘Despicable Me’ or ‘The Grinch’ is coming soon. They make sure every man (and woman) and their dog know there is a new animated film coming out, and can make you think something like ‘Sing’ is a huge tentpole film. This leads them to be one of the most bankable studios, with a total of US$6 billion at the worldwide box office with only 10 films under their belt. There is one little thing about every single one of those 10 films (with the exception of the first ‘Despicable Me’) - all of them are so generic with cute CGI characters that may capture your kids for 90 minutes, but they offer little more. So after 2016’s ‘The Secret Life Of Pets’ made almost US$900 million alone, you knew a sequel was coming.
Yep, it’s a pretty run-of-the-mill kids’ film - it sure has animals and colours and I guess characters. When a lot of Illumination films hit home entertainment, they come with three or four short films featuring the characters doing basic things; this is where the whole banana thing with the ‘Minions’ came from. ‘The Secret Life of Pets 2’ feels like a bunch of those shorts strung together to make get to an 86-minute run time. The plots of the film don’t even make an appearance until around the 20 minute mark, which made this film feel so much longer than need be.
The film has three plots that kind of come together in the end. The first is with Max (Patton Oswalt, who is replacing Louis C.K. - ‘Sorry to Bother You’, ‘The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty’) and Duke (Eric Stonestreet, TV's ‘Modern Family’, ‘Identity Thief’). Now that their owner is married and had a child they’re going on a weekend away to a farm, where Max is extremely protective of the new child. When he meets the farm dog Rooster (Harrison Ford, the ‘Star Wars’ franchise, ‘Blade Runner 2049’) he learns that it’s okay to let go and not be so protective. You may have seen in the marketing that Max has a cone on and yet that has nothing to do with the film - when he gets to the farm, Rooster just takes it off him and nothing else comes from it. This plot it’s fine, though Max and Duke outside of being cute are pretty boring, with nothing memorable about it.
The second plot features Snowball the bunny (Kevin Hart, ‘Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle’, ‘Ride Along’), in his new superhero persona, teaming up with new character Daisy (Tiffany Haddish, ‘Girls Trip’, ‘Night School’). This shitzu was on a plane when she saw a circus tiger in a cage, so when she hears of the new apartment superhero, she seeks his help to set him free. Sure, why not? This plot at least leads to some kind of action and what connects all the characters for third act, which I will get to later.
There are many, many worse films you could show you children if they like animals - it’s a harmless 90 minutes and its not like their aren’t laughs.
The third plot and in my opinon the only good one features Gidget (Jenny Slate, ‘Venom’, ‘Gifted’) who’s still in love with Max. When he goes away, he enlists her to take care of his favourite toy, but she loses it in the old crazy cat lady’s apartment below. So she must learn to be a cat with the help of Chole (Lake Bell, ‘Man Up’, ‘Home Again’). I’m not even a cat person and I loved Chloe. She was constantly making me laugh out loud throughout the film with her attempts to get into the apartment and retrieve the toy. It’s definitely the slimmest story line but I was having so much fun with it; I wish there was some way I could watch it at home without all the other storylines interrupting.
The three stories come together when Max returns home to find that Snowball has been hiding the tiger in his apartment while he was away, but the evil circus owner’s wolves are chasing after them so all the animals help out. Gidget even recruits the cats that she’s become the queen of. The big finale leads to a chase scene that ends on a train... of course (I mean, out of the two movies with a third act action scene set on a train, please see this if your other option is ‘Dark Phoenix’). The film just ends after that, and then halfway through the credits Snowball raps the song ‘Panda’, a song that was old in 2016.
‘The Secret Life of Pets’ is a weird franchise; I don’t see kids really walking around with Max plushies, nor do I see stories filled with toys from the movie. The original unexpectedly made all this money and so now we have this generic film. There are many, many worse films you could show you children if they like animals - it’s a harmless 90 minutes and its not like their aren’t laughs. I just wish the film was a whole lot more creative.