The Secret Life of Pets 2
Dirs: Chris Renaud, Jonathan del Val
Stars: Patton Oswalt, Kevin Hart, Tiffany Haddish, Jenny Slate, Eric Stonestreet, Lake Bell and Harrison Ford
The Secret Life of Pets 2 is an honest to goodness laugher, worthy of any evening where a group is sitting around, trying to decide on a title that everyone can agree on. The very definition of a “crowd pleaser,” it’s got a scene, a character or a bit of dialogue for everyone from the young to the older, the indifferent to those who love animation. Pets 2 is an absolute winner, and part of what Pets 2 gets right (much like the original film, by the way), is the perspective of the story – inside the mind of Max the dog and all his buddies. I think the marketing campaign for the original even asked something to the effect of, “What do they think about all day?” And what pet(s) owners among us hasn’t thought of this question? This title’s funny, engaging, requires no knowledge at all of its predecessor, and in today’s bizarre entertainment environment, is easily found on Netflix (at least as of the time of this draft).
Max (voiced by Patton Oswalt), who looks like a little Jack Russel to me, has a problem. This supremely cute mutt has an owner who has not only fallen in love with an oafish looking knucklehead, but also is going to have a child with the man. The little guy makes clear, he doesn’t care for kids normally – but Liam, who Max calls “my kid,” is different. As soon as the little toddler declares his love for Max, the dog is hooked. And I can just stop calling out the cuteness factor here – every single character is indeed adorable, probably demonstrated most in the tiger-kitten Hu’s body movements and enormous eyes. For the rest of this entry, remember, the assumption is – the animation makes all characters super-cute (with the exception of evil-doer Sergei).
And so, we have storyline number one – Max and his desire to overcome his own anxieties towards Liam. The kid’s growing up, and Max is growing more and more protective to the point he can’t handle the responsibility. But, like an action-packed summer novel you can’t put down, Pets 2 has two other storylines. The first is of the ridiculously dynamic and comedic bunny Snowball – voiced as in the predecessor by the imitable Kevin Hart – as he attempts to help Havanese Daisy (Tiffany Haddish) rescue a baby tiger named Hu from the villainous and abusive circus exhibitionist, Sergei. Why Russian and/or Eastern European voices (in this case, Nick Kroll) make for such great bad guys is for another post – just know that this storyline is as interesting as Max’s. And, the third plot-line concerns little toy dog Gidget (Jenny Slate) as she attempts to rescue Max’s favorite ball, which has bounced down innumerable flights of fire escapes and into the apartment of the Cat Lady, who apparently owns approximately 10,000 cats. This caricature of the old, crazy Cat Lady who lives alone with countless felines had some of the best surprises of the movie’s final act, by the way…
Sure, the scenes of Gidget learning to become a cat under the tuteledge of (again, ridiculously funny animation) neighbor and slightly portly Chloe (Lake Bell) are funny. And the Hart/Haddish dialogue and action also made this reviewer laugh. But it’s Harrison Ford as the elegant Shepherd Rooster that stole the show, at least for me. Max meets Rooster after a visit to the vet. After poor Max gets the dreaded plastic cone applied to his neck, the whole family takes a trip to an uncle’s farm. And of course, the little guy is as anxious around pigs, cows and a particularly funny turkey. Rooster notices this, and asks who he is, where he’s from – and why he insists on wearing that absurd plastic cone?
To be fully transparent, I’m a single guy living alone in his early 40s – no wife or kids to speak of just yet. But, I do have plenty of pals and family with young kids – and I love hanging out with them and the kids and asking questions about the reality of parenting today. Subsequently, the subject of “helicopter parenting” has popped up from time to time. This cultural phenomenon is surely familiar to us all, and I find it a worthwhile subject to explore whenever my parent-friends are in the mood. What I mean is, I think some kids are so spoiled today – and others are just too protected. Maybe this is why I liked the character of Rooster so much. Rooster tearing the plastic cone off of Max’s neck with the simple dialogue, “See? You’re fine.” resonated with me and my own observations of new parents. Don’t get me wrong – I’m impressed and pleased with many of the new parental techniques and tools available today. But, this storyline hit me as a potential swinging of the pendulum – that it’s OK to tear the band-aid off every now and again, and is even healthy to do so.
In the end, it’s a credit to this film’s production that the movie has “something for everyone” – even a single guy like me! My only complaint is one that I have voiced towards many modern movies, that some of the action was so frantic it was difficult to tell where we were and how we got there. But, the movie is a brief 90 minutes, which turns out to be just shy of two hours if you’re in theaters with the kids… Like I said, Pets 2 has something for everybody!