Reader discretion: The review for this family film contains mild course language.
For older viewers, the most interesting thing about this film is likely to be the recasting controversy surrounding the first instalment’s central character, Max. Louis C.K., Max’s original voice actor, admitted to sexual misconduct in 2017 and was subsequently replaced by Patton Oswalt. However, THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS 2 suffers from a bad case of what I call ‘Cars 2 Syndrome’, that is, when a sequel lazily staples a story with ties to the original to one focused on a popular character, expecting the audience to either figure out the connection for themselves or not care. As a result, Max’s semblance of an arc is underdeveloped and forgettable; I’m not defending C.K.’s actions, but rather believe that the character simply could’ve gone unseen or unheard instead of wasting Oswalt’s talent.
THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS 2 basically has two main plots: Max learning to face his fears and use this knowledge to be a better friend and family member, and some bullshit where a rabbit rescues a tiger from a circus. The latter stars Snowball (Kevin Hart), who is perhaps the franchise’s most recognisable face and voice, so it’s easy to see why he’s front and centre this time around. Unfortunately, the film can’t decide which story to prioritise and compromises by cutting between them constantly, which is not only distracting, but causes each to lack balance.
Although Snowball’s antics are colourful, fast-paced and have the advantage of featuring Tiffany Haddish as a co-lead, everything from the action to the (admittedly kid-friendly) humour is utter nonsense, taking a ‘throw everything at the wall and see what sticks’ approach. For instance, a tiger and a pack of wolves walk down the streets of New York in separate scenes set in broad daylight, yet we’re never shown any of the city’s inhabitants reacting to this. Meanwhile, as I mentioned above, Max’s story is more grounded at the cost of being almost inescapably boring. Essentially, a sheepdog named Rooster (Harrison Ford) looks down on Max for being scared of everything around him until the latter realises Rooster has a point and changes. Ford is as excellent as you’d expect despite this being his first role in an animated feature, with the veteran actor’s instinctual gruffness first used to cast Rooster as an enigma before revealing his deeper wisdom. Even just playing a canine version of himself, Ford is the clear cast MVP.
THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS 2 is more bland than outright bad, with enough bright visuals and exaggerated jokes to keep young kids entertained throughout its mercifully brief runtime. Instead of serving an ambitious script or technical achievement, it’s a safe follow-up which exists for the sake of it. Ultimately, I suspect that this film will not only be forgotten by its target audience, but indifferently remembered by adults as ‘the first time Han Solo did a cartoon’.