Upon the release in 2015, The Secret Life of Pets introduced nothing particularly new. While heartwarming, the titular narrative is familiar and formulaic at best. Even by glancing, people keep comparing the narrative to the first Toy Story with pets substituting the toys. The movie was a well-intentioned comedy spawning super-cute and likeable characters with less distinctive, non-merchandise-minded designs. Unable to develop an intriguing story to follow up the first movie, The Secret Life of Pets 2 decides to focus on the overly cute characters
Brian Lynch’s script sees a potential—a new recipe to create a heartfelt follow-up, but immediately leaves the premise knowing that the narrative recipe resembles the plot of Toy Story 3 about the characters (in this case, pets) that become irrelevant to the owner/master. The Secret Life of Pets starts it right, expanding the life of Ellie Kemper’s Katie who meets a guy and then starts building a family. We know that the protagonist, Max (now voiced by Patton Oswalt replacing Louis C.K.), has had some adaptation issue especially with new people, a behavior he exhibited when Duke (Eric Stonestreet) arrived on the first movie. Now, Max has to accept the fact that Katie has married and had a child. Learning from the premise, we might expect a heavyweight drama that, albeit familiar, could possibly contend Pixar. Yet, that never happens.
The Secret Life of Pets 2 immediately chooses to abandon the premise. Subsequently, the sequel uses that premise merely as a preface to several comedic sketches involving some characters that stole attention in the first movie. Max and Duke leave for a family vacation at a ranch and encounter a dashing sheepdog, Rooster (Harrison Ford). The fancy dog who has crush on Max, Gidget (Jenny Slate), still with the signature shrill, is given an arc involving an old lady’s house of cats. The former gangster-leading rabbit, Snowball (Kevin Hart), is also given a vigilante arc, as a high-ponytailed Shih Tzu, Daisy (Tiffany Haddish), comes asking for an aid to investigate a local circus trope. The three arcs will eventually coalesce, but for the whole duration, each of them feels like several separated episodes focusing on the fan-favorite pets.
When rooting to the characters, it’s easy to enjoy every bit of this sequel even when the comedic moments are often over-stretched. Chris Renaud and co-director, Jonathan del Val, Illumination’s leading animator, understand that the characters should be the motor of the movie; the narrative comes later. From there, The Secret Life of Pets 2 moves quickly from the sea of buildings in New York to the ranch, where animals are not treated as pets. They could have made some remarks about the irony, but that’s not what this sequel is aiming.
With plot that works like a series of comedic sketches, The Secret Life of Pets 2 focuses on nothing but the best product of the series, the characters. If you’re here to have fun and have fun only, then this sequel might be suitable for you. And yet, if you’re asking for deep narrative to match the cute visual, you might as well look anywhere else.