Co-directed by Chris Renaud and Jonathan del Val, The Secret Life of Pets 2 from Illumination Studios aims to follow-up the cuteness and connection from the first. As most sequels go, adding one to a franchise dedicated to exploring what our pets do when we aren’t around in a unique animation style isn’t a bad idea.
The Secret Life of Pets 2 opens with Max, newly voiced by Patton Oswalt for obvious reasons, narrating the life of adapting when his owner Katie (Ellie Kemper) meets a man, falls in love, and adds a kid to their family, baby Liam (Henry Lynch). But when initial fear of the new kid turns into a need to protect him, Max changes from outgoing terrier to a dog scared by everything, worried about baby Liam’s safety.
Having been fitted with a cone to combat his anxious scratching, Max, Duke (Eric Stonestreet), and their humans take off to visit a family member in the country, leaving New York City and the extended cast of characters we came to know and love in the first film. While Max’s journey to overcome fear is heartwarming, it’s newcomer Rooster, voiced by Harrison Ford, who steals the scenes, pushing him past his fear.
While Duke has fun catching lightning bugs and playing with the other animals on the farm, Max is being terrorized by farm animals and a wild fox alike. That is until he sees Rooster and begins to try to show that he is just as tough as him. But of course, he messes up and follows Rooster into the woods to correct his mistake and to confront his fear directly in order to learn how to take chances with the unknown in front of him as opposed to shaking on the sideline.
Rooster is the old man that may not listen to Max or his anxiety, but at the end of the day is pivotal in helping Max move past it. Not to mention, the cow-herding tough old dog is pretty much just Ford being Ford, adding his voice to dry lines of humor that work well against Oswalt’s excited and emotion-filled voice as Max. While the nervous and neurotic Max has numerous run-ins with canine-intolerant cows, a hostile fox, and a scary stalking turkey, the rest of the pets are in New York City are left to their own adventures.
Back in the city, Max’s struggle to overcome his fear and country life is intercut with two adventures. The first focuses on Max’s self-proclaimed girlfriend, Gidget (Jenny Slate), and her quest to reclaim Max’s favorite toy from a whole lot of cats with the help of Chloe (Lake Bell). The second follows Snowball and the new addition to the pet family, Daisy (Tiffany Haddish), an adorable shitzu with enough courage and heart to fuel their adventure to save a tiger named Hu from being abused in the circus.
The Secret Life of Pets 2 is ultimately more of an anthology movie, with multiple stories happening parallel to each other until they finally meet at the end. That being said, Max and Duke are still the main protagonists of the film, even if their performances are outshined by other pets, new and old, who have their own adventures. In addition to Ford’s appearance keeping my attention on the screen, Haddish’s character Daisy is a wonderful addition to the world.
Daisy is a perfect match to Hart’s Snowball, where he speaks big, she acts big, truly fearless despite her small size and putting action to words. Her ability to take on a pack of wolves and a sense of justice stands in stark contrast to the other two narratives within The Secret Life of Pets 2, making her story overshadow Max’s, while the two of them outshine the third adventure in this film.
While Gidget remains cute, stalkerish, and determined, in comparison to the other two stories in the hour and a half film, operation rescue Busy Bee, the name of Max’s toy that she is protecting over his trip, falls a little flat. This is probably due to the use of the same characters we’ve seen, which although I love them all, lacks a newness, reusing some jokes from the first film.
In addition to a weaker showing in Gidget’s storyline, the changes in some of the characters are hard to get over, even when a change in voice actor for the lead isn’t. Snowball, the former leader of almost all of the strays in New York City is now the pet and superhero, the only problem is that he’s extremely scared, of everything. It isn’t the same way as Max is scared, this is played more laughs and a foil to Daisy’s fearlessness. While it isn’t a bad idea, it’s one made me question the character multiple times throughout the film.
In truth, the animation of The Secret Life of Pets 2 is the best part of the film. Not just because it’s adorable, but because as a pet parent, there are small characteristics of dogs that the animators included. While small, for those of us who look into a dog’s face every day, it’s appreciated and makes the film mean more. From the small black lips drawn on the dogs, the way their ears twitch in the direction of a sound, their behaviors embodying exaggerated breed characteristics, and even just the way Max anxiously scratches, all are recognizable and allowed me to see my own dog on screen.
Overall, The Secret Life of Pets 2 is a fun family film that tries to tell a lot of stories and while they’re not all stellar, they are adorable to watch on the big screen. If you were a fan of the first film, the second will still give you a few belly-laughs and is definitely worth seeing when the film hits theaters later this month. But, for those unfamiliar with the property might not fall in love if they don’t have a loving pet to come home to. In addition, if you’re looking for more The Secret Life of Pets check out the comic from Titan comics, that contains small stories from all the pets in New York City.
The Secret Life of Pets 2 is in theaters nationwide on June 7th.
Kate is co-founder, EIC, and CCO of BWT. She’s also a Certified Rotten Tomatoes Critic, host, and creator of our flagship podcast, But Why Tho? and Did You Have To?. She also manages all PR relationships for comics, manga, film, TV, and anime. She has an MA in Cultural Anthropology and Religious Studies focusing on how pop culture impacts society.