“The first step of not being afraid is acting like you’re not afraid.”
Illumination Entertainment has continuously pushed the envelope, creating brilliant stories and unforgettable characters, challenging rival Pixar as it works to become a mainstay in the continually evolving world of animation. The Secret Life of Pets 2, a sequel to the unexpected 2016 breakout hit, was a foregone conclusion; however, its fresh story, undeniable wit, and ageless humor allow it to be more than a traditional money grab.
Director Chris Renaud returns to the world of Max, Duke, Snowball, and Gidget, bringing with him a story that both explains the three-year hiatus and propels the furry creatures’ lives into a brand new arena - parenting.
Told in what can only be explained as three separate stories that stem from the same central focus, the primary narrative remains dialed in on Jack Russell terrier Max (voiced by franchise newcomer Patton Oswalt), as he works to come to terms with the recent addition to his quickly growing family - baby turned toddler Liam.
Liam, as one might expect, brings a slew of dangerous obstacles to Max’s world as Renaud plays to a new parent’s insecurities, forcing Max to deal with the ever-changing complexities of the world and its hazardous barriers that present themselves at every turn.
After a vet visit lands him in a cone, Max and family venture to the countryside for a much-needed vacation. It is there that we meet a rough, tough, but overall friendly sheepdog named Rooster (Harrison Ford) who challenges are lead protagonist to step up, let go and overcome his helicopter parent tendencies.
Meanwhile, back in the Big Apple, Max’s band of neighborhood pets are having a few problems of their own. Gidget (Jenny Slate), a beautifully pampered Pomeranian, has lost Max’s favorite toy to an apartment overrun with cats. Snowball (Kevin Hart), the surprise star of the original film, teams up with sassy Shih Tzu Daisy (Tiffany Haddish) to live out his superhero dreams and rescue a timid tiger from the grasp of an evil circus owner and his pack of gruesome wolves.
With so many evolving storylines, the overarching narrative could have been muddled and confusing, disjointedly thrown together to cover all its basis. Thankfully Renaud uses even pacing and a healthy blend of visual aesthetics to create a strong balance between each adventure.
Though Max is the outright lead, fans of the supporting characters will be pleased to know that each carries a strong presence throughout the film, offering up a unique situation where a large ensemble is effectively utilized. And though each character grows within the rather short eighty-six-minute runtime, the life lessons are never preached, instead evolving naturally within the context of the film.
But do not be fooled; The Secret Life of Pets 2 is not a Pixar style film. Though it will appeal to viewers of all ages, it is made primarily with kids in mind. Though adorable and playful, it lacks both the emotional complexity and mature thematic elements to qualify as anything more than innocent fun.