The Secret Life of Pets 2 trips itself up with divided focus
Even in the franchise-heavy era in which we live, greenlighting a sequel for a film is still a risky proposition. Filmmakers have to make sure that they are moving characters forward so that they're not doing the exact same thing as in the first film but not change them so drastically so as to alienate what made them lovable in the first place.
This is usually a moot point for animated films, which are almost guaranteed to do big business if they get to the sequel stage, but it also can't be taken for granted. That might be the lesson that the makers of The Secret Life of Pets 2 learn, as they have delivered an enjoyable film that's also more than a little lazy in the story department.
Things start off well enough as Max (Patton Oswalt, taking over for the now-toxic Louis C.K.) and Duke (Eric Stonestreet) get used to their owner, Katie (Ellie Kemper), not only getting married but having a child, as well. Upheavals like this are a timeworn staple to access different character levels, but instead of taking their time with the developments, directors Chris Renaud and Jonathan del Val and writer Brian Lynch speed through the events in a matter of minutes.
Having dispensed with that story arc, the filmmakers make the ill-fated decision to split the focus of the film. Max, Duke, and their family head for a vacation on the farm, where the dogs learn life lessons from the grizzled dog Rooster (Harrison Ford). Gidget (Jenny Slate), tasked by Max with looking after his favorite toy, promptly loses it in a den of cats and must figure out how to get it back. And Snowball (Kevin Hart) is convinced by newcomer Daisy (Tiffany Haddish) to help rescue a tiger from a circus.
The result in following characters in multiple directions is that the film feels less like a movie and more like three episodes of a TV show mixed together. Each story has its fun moments, but the lack of cohesion between the three makes it feel as if there wasn't a point in making the film in the first place.
Still, it's enjoyable to hang out with each of the characters again, especially because each of the voice actors are so distinctive. This is not usually the case in animated films, but it's tough to argue that Oswalt, Hart, Stonestreet, Haddish, Slate, and more bring that extra special element that makes their characters more interesting. Points should also go to the animators, who make some gorgeous imagery, something that's a bit unexpected from the team behind the Despicable Me series.
The Secret Life of Pets 2 is far from a bad movie, but it offers no real imagination in the storytelling department. If there is to be a third film, they'd do well to get the gang back together again and see what mayhem arrives.