“They Still Have Their Secrets”
Directed by Chris Renauld
Starring Patton Oswalt, Eric Stonestreet, Kevin Hart, Jenny Slate, Tiffany Haddish, Lake Bell, Nick Kroll, Dana Carvey, Ellie Kemper, Chris Renaud, Hannibal Buress, Bobby Moynihan and Harrison Ford
Max (Oswalt) and Duke (Stonestreet) find their lives changed forever when their owner Katie (Kemper) marries and has a baby, Liam. Duke takes the changes in his stride, but Max becomes consumed by the fear of Liam getting hurt, so the family take a ride to visit relatives on a farm. Max leaves his beloved toy, Busy Bee, with Gidget (Slate), who manages to lose it in a cat lady’s apartment. Meanwhile, Daisy (Haddish) comes to Snowball (Hart) for help rescuing a white tiger from brutal circus owner Sergei (Kroll) and his pack of wolves.
On the farm, Max eventually falls under the mentorship of veteran cattle dog Rooster (Ford), and learns to conquer his fears. Back in the city, Gidget asks Chloe (Bell) to help her pretend to be a cat and infiltrate the apartment, with the help of Norman the guinea pig (Renaud). Daisy and Snowball hide Hu the Tiger with Pops (Carvey), an elderly basset hound running a puppy school.
Sergei catches up with Hu. Max and Snowball give chase and rescue Hu from the circus train, while Gidget brings the cat lady and her cats to the rescue.
What’s wrong with it?
This film has a lot going on, and the three main stories – Max’s anxiety, Gidget’s loss of Busy Bee, and the tiger rescue – barely have anything to do with each other until the final act. As it is, I’m not sure the core lessons of Max’s strand – that you can’t insulate a child from the world – actually come into play in the other threads, which feels oddly disconnected.
Max’s overprotectiveness is really quite understandable given that Liam’s parents basically never look at the kid. Also, running people over apparently isn’t something that makes people take pause in this world.
This laise faire attitude is clearly not limited to the parents, as apparently a pack of wolves can run wild in New York without a single response from animal control.
What’s right with it?
Colourfully animated in Illumination’s signature style, this film looks really good.
The characters are lively and likable, and the film’s sense of humour is quirky, absurd and appealing.
While the ensemble cast is vast, they are all talented voice actors. Tara Strong plays a damn budgie. With no lines. Twilight Sparkle.
How bad is it really?
The Secret Life of Pets 2 is a goofy, absurdist romp, full of ludicrous situations and fun characters, with a lot of heart at its core.
Best bit (if such there is)?
When Gidget gets into trouble in the cat lady’s apartment, Norman deploys a laser pointer as a distraction. He then arranges it so that Gigdet appears to catch ‘the red dot’, which marks her as the cats’ messiah as she sweeps majestically past them on top of a roombah.
I also love the suggestion that baggage upsets are the result of pets going through their owners’ things in the hold.
What’s up with…?
- I’m really unsure how secret these lives actually are. Sergei seems to be aware that he can give complex instructions to his wolves and to his monkey (which apparently include knife-throwing and artillery,) while Rooster operates entirely independently of human supervision.
Production values – Illumination’s style isn’t as technically excellent as Pixar’s or as aesthetically refined as Disney’s, but it is distinctive and has a decided appeal. 5
Dialogue and performances – A superb cast makes a meal of a bubbly script. 5
Plot and execution – The film has three strong stories, but lacks a truly coherently throughline that would tie them all together. 9
Randomness – There is a cat, who disguises herself as a dog disguised as a cat to blend in with a bunch of other cats. A tiger quietly moves into someone’s house. There are wolves loose in New York City and no-one bats an eyelid. 12
Waste of potential – I didn’t see the first movie – not all of it, anyway; it was very loud and we had to take my daughter out after about fifteen minutes – but I can’t say I was expecting much of the sequel. 3