“Secret Life of Pets 2” had me for about 10 minutes.
In its opening sequence, Max (voiced by Patton Oswalt, replacing Louis C.K.), the excitable Jack Russell Terrier, catches the audience up on what’s been going on his life.
Cribbing a little from Pixar movies like “Up” and “The Incredibles,” we see how Duke (Eric Stonestreet), a mammoth, shaggy Newfoundland mix, and he have become surrogate protectors of Liam, the child of their owners, Katie and Chuck.
At first, because Liam is treading on their territory and messing up the dogs’ lives, they’re angered by his presence. But when he expresses his affection toward them through some big hugs, they form an unbreakable bond.
Max anxiously worries about Liam’s well-being as he waddles around the house and is carted around the busy streets of New York City. When a sewer grate bursts with steam, Max screams, “Has it always been this dangerous?”
It’s an interesting shift of dynamics from the first film, which basically re-told “Toy Story” with dogs, cats and rabbits instead of astronauts, cowboy heroes and dinosaurs. But like the first movie, this one’s story deflates immediately after it introduces other characters.
When Katie takes the entire family, Max and Duke included, on a vacation to a relative’s farm, they leave the other animals in their high-rise apartment, like the Pomeranian Gidget (Jenny Slate) and the motor-mouthed, superhero-loving rabbit Snowball (Kevin Hart) to go on adventures.
Dreaming of marrying Max, Gidget wants to show her loyalty to him by protecting Busy Bee, his favorite chew toy, while he’s away. Teaming up with Daisy, a shih tzu (voiced by Tiffany Haddish), Snowball is tasked with saving Hu, a white tiger, from an abusive circus owner, Sergei (Nick Kroll).
Both stories hobble along, leaving Hart and Haddish to riff of each other and Gidget to get stuck in a “crazy old cat lady” plot. Somehow, screenwriter Brian Lynch (“Secret Life of Pets” and “Minions”) is able to patch this into the movie’s main plot, while Max and Duke are stuck in a “City Slickers” rip-off, with the cranky Rooster, a stoic sheepdog voiced by Harrison Ford, teaching them that they’re a bunch of big-city sissies who don’t need things like dog therapy or fences protecting them from the world.
Director Chris Renaud, a person who is well versed in colorful, manic CGI movies like “The Lorax” and the “Despicable Me” films, knows how to distract kids for 90 minutes with bright, energetic characters and jokes that usually involve bodily functions and violence.
Where the first “Secret Life of Pets” didn’t know how to write a joke about pets that didn’t involve the lowest-hanging fruit (cats are apathetic jerks, dogs are overly excited companions), the second one runs out of humor within its first 20 minutes. So it does the same thing as the original, except with a darker story about animal abuse and an oddly dismissive message about self-care.
It’s telling that the theater I saw this in, which was filled with kids, gave the biggest reaction to the movie’s credits sequence, which shows videos pulled from YouTube of kids doing silly things with their pets. I have a feeling the parents must have been thinking “We should have just stayed home and watched those videos instead.”
— Andrew Gaug | St. Joe Live