No animals harmed in making of entertaining family flick ‘The Secret Life of Pets 2’

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Grade: 3.5/5.0    

A wag-worthy tale of the far-out antics of a group of New York City pets, “The Secret Life of Pets 2” continues to showcase just what these animals get up to when their owners aren’t watching. A story of learning to be brave, saving those who can’t save themselves and righting one’s wrongs, this movie hits the target for giving its young viewers shining moral examples. While it may be more forgettable in this history of animated films, “The Secret Life of Pets 2” serves its purpose as an entertaining family movie for kids and pets alike.   

Written by Brian Lynch, the writer responsible for the first “Secret Life of Pets” film in 2016 as well as 2015’s “Minions,” the film follows three separate storylines involving our beloved cast of furry friends. On this project, Lynch collaborated again with director Chris Renaud, who also worked on the first “Secret Life of Pets,” in addition to the “Despicable Me” series and 2012’s “The Lorax.”   

Much of this film follows our lead pet, Max the terrier (Patton Oswalt), as he learns to live harmoniously with his owners’ new baby, Liam (Henry Lynch). While the two get off to a rocky beginning, with Max’s owner focused mainly on her child, Max and Liam begin to grow fond of each other over time. This precious bond is strengthened as Max starts to feel protective over the now-toddler.  

The most commendable aspect of this film is the wise decision to recast the lead character of Max, who was originally voiced by comedian Louis C.K. Following C.K.’s admission of his sexual misconduct in the entertainment industry, the role of Max was given to Oswalt, who voiced Remy in 2007’s “Ratatouille.” Oswalt brings a lightness to the character of Max but also succeeds in conveying emotion as Max faces several stressful situations, such as an anxiety-ridden trip to the veterinarian.    

Max and his dog buddy Duke (Eric Stonestreet) join their family on a vacation to the countryside to visit a relative. Here, Max and Duke meet the rough-and-tumble country dog Rooster, voiced by the legendary Harrison Ford. Rooster embodies the beloved “deal with it” attitude carried by many of Ford’s roles over the decades — an outlook especially seen when Rooster teaches Max how to overcome his doubts in himself. Ford plays a compelling grandfather figure as Rooster, bringing logical and emotional balance to the turning point of Max’s character arc.      

Viewers also follow Snowball (Kevin Hart), the heroically suited bunny, as he brings “paw and order” to the abusive traveling circus in town, which is mistreating its less-than-graceful white tiger. One of the best Snowball moments of this film is when his young female owner (Kiely Renaud) decides she is over superheroes and the bunny’s time in the suit comes to an end. Snowball gets a first look at his new outfit of lipstick and a gown fit for a queen (as his owner is entering a royal tea party phase) and cheers at how cool the look is. With this subtle, inclusive twist on gender norms, it could be said that Snowball never stopped being a superhero after all.    

Both the storyline of Max and that of Snowball overshadow the third main narrative of the film, which focuses on the primped and proper Pomeranian Gidget (Jenny Slate) as she attempts to retrieve a lost dog toy from a neighboring apartment. A more forgettable vein of the film, Gidget’s activities just don’t stack up to Max’s new parental challenges and Snowball’s activist adventures.           

The animation for this film is crisp and bright, easily one of the more beautifully framed animations of late (barring the earth-shattering imagery in “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” of course). The skyline shots of New York City, whether with bright night lights or midday cherry blossom beauty, are artistically placed and add a recognition of urban charm to the film.

Ultimately, however, the film falls short of fantastic by not allowing enough time for viewers to invest in the characters. Because of the three-plot structure of the film, each character is not given enough screen time for the audience to get attached to any one pet, making for a less memorable watching experience than the film had the potential to be.     

“The Secret Life of Pets” franchise is definitely not about to go down in history as one of the best animation series. But these films are unarguably precious and entertaining family watches, especially for younger viewers. Sure, they’re no “Incredibles” or “Toy Story. But rather than comparing them to the animated icons of our generation, just enjoy the picturesque cityscapes and fun adventures of Max and his friends.

Contact Skylar De Paul at [email protected]. Tweet her at @skylardepaul.