Disjointed and Not Funny
One of the toughest challenges faced by screenwriters when developing a sequel -- especially to a wildly popular animated film -- is how to best capture the same spirit and vibe of the original while also taking the story and characters we love to new places that expand the world. There’s a fine line between too much of the same, and too much new. Unfortunately, the creators of The Secret Life of Pets 2 fell into a deadly trap of a different kind.
The film comes from Illumination, the creative minds behind the Minions franchise which, by the way, is one of the most profitable out there, so one would think they know a thing or two about how to successfully carry a franchise forward. But with The Secret Life of Pets 2, screenwriter Brian Lynch, who co-wrote the original, sucks the soul from the franchise by introducing us to too many new characters and putting each on too many disjointed adventures.
However, the film’s biggest problem is that it has abandoned the central conceit that made the original so charming and delightful: that we are getting a fly-on-the-wall look at what our pets do when we are away. Replacing that premise are three separate, concurrently-running storylines that feel more like half-baked elements of the television cartoon series version of the franchise -- if there was one. A better title for this film would be The Disjointed Adventures of Pets. Not quite as catchy and engaging, but certainly more applicable.
The film opens with our big city canine protagonist Max (voiced by Patton Oswalt who takes over from Louis C.K. for obvious reasons) trying to adjust to his new life. In the previous installment, Max’s worries came from a new dog in the family named Duke (Eric Stonestreet), but here the wrinkle is the addition of a new baby named Liam (Henry Lynch) from Max’s owners Katie (Ellie Kemper) and Chuck (Pete Holmes).
Accustomed to being the main focus of attention, Max is initially quite perturbed at having his family spotlight stolen once again, this time by Liam. But he eventually warms up to the little bugger and even becomes a neurotically overprotective mess. The consequences of helicopter parenting seems to be one of the film’s main themes, but it is a bit outside the sphere of comprehension for most children in the audience, and a far too distant reach from what we so loved about the original.
In addition to Max’s family struggles, there’s another thread that involves squeaky Pomeranian Gidget (Jenny Slate) who is tasked with protecting Max’s favorite chew toy at all costs. As expected, the toy gets away from her so she spends the entirety of the film trying to get it back from the old cat lady’s apartment below.
Then there’s the Shih Tzu named Daisy (Tiffany Haddish) who enlists the aid of delusional superhero bunny rabbit Snowball (Kevin Hart) and all her other pals on the block to save a rare white Tiger from an evil circus owner named Sergei (Nick Kroll).
While this is all going on, Max and his family take a vacation to the country where they stay for a couple of days with relatives and are introduced to a gruff herding dog named Rooster (Harrison Ford) who helps Max build his confidence and conquer his own fears. So, now we have yet another theme making itself known: developing your own independence.
Confused yet? These storylines are all taking place simultaneously as we hop back and forth between them before they ultimately collide in the finale back in the original setting of Max’s New York City apartment. To make this technique work, there needs to be a familiar connective tissue that ties them together. There isn’t. The entire film is a confusing hodgepodge of disparate storylines and broken ideas firing in all directions with no emotional authenticity tying them together.
The experience might have been a bit more enjoyable had it been funny. Beyond the film’s opening scene there’s little to laugh at and most of the younglings in my screening began to grow restless thirty minutes in.
The original bowed to the biggest opening weekend ever at the time… animated or otherwise. Think about that for a moment. Regardless, let it be no secret that this follow-up fails to measure up in almost every way. Take your kids if you want, but lower your expectations and consider yourself warned. The Secret Life of Pets 2 has nothing to do with what our pets do when we aren't around.
(Released by Universal Pictures and rated “PG” for some action and rude humor.)
Review also posted at www.franksreelreviews.com.