‘The Secret Life of Pets 2’ lacks heart

The Secret Life of Pets 2 (2019)

Directed by Chris Renaud & Jonathan del Val

In my 2016 review of “The Secret Life of Pets,” I compared that movie’s themes to those of the “Toy Story” franchise. The movie showed what pets did when their owners weren’t around and presented those characters as complex and caring beings whose purpose in life is to protect and entertain their owners. It felt like a different take on the “Toy Story” story. As I watched “The Secret Life of Pets 2,” I realized that the plot was remarkably like a “Toy Story” movie again except for one major difference… “The Secret Life of Pets 2” has no emotional component that resonates, whereas “Toy Story” is a franchise with heart to spare.

The lovable mutt Max (now voiced by Patton Oswald, after Louis C.K.’s #MeToo P.R. nightmare…not a good way to start your children’s movie) is thrown into the deep end when his owner gets married and has a son. Max’s goal is to protect the little rascal, but when the family visits the toddler’s grandpa in the country, Max will discover that danger is more rampant than he ever realized. Back in the city, Gidget (Jennie Slate), tasked with watching Max’s favorite toy while he’s away, gets in a pickle when the toy winds up in the paws of dozens of vicious housecats. Across town, Snowball (Kevin Hart)—now with an inflated ego after his new owner dressed him up as a caped superhero—tries to help a new dog (Tiffany Haddish) save a captured circus animal from an evil ringmaster (Nick Kroll).

Kevin Hart and Tiffany Haddish in The Secret Life of Pets 2 (2019)

Do children like movies with three separate subplots that only barely connect at the end? Because I don’t. The pressure must have been on the screenwriters to include all the characters that audiences loved from the first movie, but in the absence of a good story that included all of them, they just wrote a bad story that didn’t (or, rather, three bad stories). “The Secret Life of Pets 2” is full of gags that probably failed to make the cut in the first movie. We meet an “old cat lady” character that utilizes every possible stereotype, for example. The movie feels familiar, like each of its jokes had been told before by its predecessor or another (better) movie.

“The Secret Life of Pets 2” shows that the first movie’s jokes only work once and that when faced with a difficult challenge like a leading voice actor caught up in a sexual harassment scandal, it probably should have just stopped while it was ahead instead of forging on.

4.5/10

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