After the mile-a-minute whirlwind of slobber and pet hair that was the first Secret Life of Pets movie in 2016, it’s nice to see that apparently you can teach an old dog new tricks. The gang at Illumination has wisely taken a breath and dispatched with most of the hyperkinetic nuttiness that marred the first outing and instead given us something much more…well, breathable.
The Secret Life of Pets 2 brings back all the characters from the first go-round and even adds a few more, and, with the exception of the disgraced Louis C.K., the original cast is back, too. Patton Oswalt takes over in the lead role of Max, a terrier who is still enjoying Big Apple living with big ol’ Duke (Eric Stonestreet) and their owner Katie (Ellie Kemper). In an Up-like montage, we watch as Katie meets, marries, has a child with, and raises said child with Chuck (Pete Holmes)… and then we’re back up-to-speed in the present day to find the whole fam on a road trip to a farm in the country. Once there, the doggies meet a farmhand sheepdog named Rooster (a gruff-tastic Harrison Ford), and Max finally gets over his fear of everything.
Just in time, too, since they arrive back in the city to discover that Snowball (Kevin Hart) and Chloe (Lake Bell) have been recruited by newcomer Daisy (Tiffany Haddish) to rescue a mistreated circus tiger, while little Gidget (Jenny Slate) is enjoying her newfound status as queen of a local band of little-old-lady cats—after failing in her duties as babysitter of Max’s beloved toy during his farm trip. Eventually, everyone bands together for a big finale battle against the evil Sergei (Nick Kroll), owner of the ironically-named “Happy Sergei’s Circus of Fun”.
Writer Brian Lynch, who penned the original, is back for the sequel and treats pet lovers to the Milk-Bone of movies, chock-full of stick-the-landing humor and some of the cutest characters this side of the Minions. And Pets 2 director Chris Renaud (Despicable Me) smartly juggles the multiple storylines while reining in the madness from the original. The result is a kinder, gentler flick—one that actually provides ample opportunity to appreciate the characters their stories and the super-fun animation. And though we’re not talking Pixar-level storytelling by any stretch, it does more than enough to earn the price of admission. It’s as fresh as a brand new litter box and as fun as a day at the dog park with a brand new toy.