With the likes of Despicable Me, Minions, Hop, Sing and The Grinch, major player animation house, Illumination Entertainment, has established itself as a creator of polished, entertaining, reliable family animation. But this is serious middle-ground stuff; while Illumination’s films never fail to hit the sweet spot, they also never really achieve anything truly new or transcendent. There’s nothing on their list, for instance, to rank alongside the likes of Zootopia, The Lego Movie or anything from the Pixar stable. In short, Illumination is always good, but never great. 2016’s popular The Secret Life Of Pets – and now its sequel, The Secret Life Pets 2 – fit tightly with the studio’s modus operandi.
Somewhat lazily structured, The Secret Life Pets 2 seeks to divide and conquer by splitting up its ensemble of domestic animals and sending them off on various adventures. Max (voiced by Patton Oswalt, who’s been subbed in for #metoo casualty Louis C.K) and Duke (Eric Stonestreet) are sent off to the country; now-superhero-wannabe Snowball (Kevin Hart) and new pal Daisy (Tiffany Haddish) set off to rescue a tiger from an evil circus owner; and the primping Gidget (Jenny Slate) disguises herself as a kitty to reappropriate Max’s favourite toy, which has been lost in a house owned by an eccentric cat lady. They all reunite for the climax, but the separation tactics undeniably give the film a distractingly episodic feel.
That said, there’s a lot to like here. Comedy talents du jour, Kevin Hart and Tiffany Haddish (who have collaborated on several past projects), are an absolute laugh riot as Snowball and Daisy, while big screen animation debutante Harrison Ford effortlessly steals all of his scenes as the imposing Rooster, a too-cool-for-school farm hound who teaches the wimpy Max to toughen up a bit. Gidget’s freaky adventures in the crazy cat lady’s house are highly inventive and amusing, and there are a few welcome jokes (Lake Bell’s kitty Chloe high on catnip is a highlight) for the grown-ups. Though good fun from start to finish, The Secret Life Pets 2 won’t quite have you rolling over and begging for a third installment.