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Thursday, 11 July 2019

The Secret Life Of Pets 2

(PG) ★★★

Director: Chris Renaud.

Cast: (voices of) Patton Oswalt, Eric Stonestreet, Jenny Slate, Kevin Hart, Tiffany Haddish, Harrison Ford, Nick Kroll, Bobby Moynihan, Lake Bell, Ellie Kemper, Dana Carvey.

Marvel's reboot of Lady & The Tramp was weird.
The first Secret Life Of Pets movie ran a long way on very little fuel. A less interesting retelling of the original Toy Story (with pets in place of toys), the film devolved into one long chase sequence (Mad Max: Furry Road, if you will). It was mostly fun and funny, but beyond that, it was short on depth or themes or anything hugely memorable beyond its cackling yet cute supervillain Snowball the fluffy white bunny.

The second one at least digs deeper with its themes, and tries harder with its plotting, weaving three weirdly separate stories into a loose bow at the end. It's a stretch, but they're trying, and it all moves at an enjoyable-enough rate to keep the little ones from fidgeting for most of its brisk 86 minutes.

A third of the film focuses on Max (Oswalt, stepping in for Louis CK who was #MeTooed out of the role) and Duke (Stonestreet), the foes-turned-friends from the first movie. These odd-couple dogs (and their largely anonymous owners) now have a little human in their lives, which causes Max to stress endlessly about the child's welfare.

The other two strands of plot revolve around Snowball (Hart) and a shih tzu named Daisy (Haddish) trying to rescue a circus tiger (yes, really), while Gidget the Pomeranian (Slate) attempts to retrieve a toy from an apartment full of cats.

These disconnected plot threads are as strange and disparate as they sound, and it's only in the last 10 minutes that they get tied together. Even then, it's an unconvincing knot. It leaves you with the feeling of having just watched three TV shows edited together.

The saving grace is that each of the plots is interesting and brings something important to the table. The Duke-Max arc contains the heart of the film, Snowball's subplot has the action and tension, and Gidget's story is the most comedic. They don't gel together, but individually they're solid.

Hart is once again 'best in show' as Snowball, but he gets a good run for his money from Ford as a farm dog named Rooster (and if there's one important question to take away from Pets 2 it's "why the hell doesn't Harrison Ford do more voice acting?"). Oswalt is an improvement on Louis CK, Slate is again great as Gidget, and Haddish is a strong addition to the cast.

As per the original, there's a strong Looney Tunes vibe in the action, and once again, many of the best laughs come from the animals-as-humans gags. The action sequences aren't as strong this time around, and Snowball's growth from supervillain to superhuman is cool (even if it feels a little like a "superheroes are so hot right now" cash-in).

Overall, it's not a terrible film, but it's such a weird mix of pieces that it you can't help but wonder if this is a couple of scripts mashed into one. Where one subplot is dealing with life and death at the hands of an evil Russian, another is about looking after a small child. Where one is dealing with a room full of cats, another is learning to stress less and confront your fears. It's a bizarre mix of stakes and priorities, and the film can be jarring as it moves from one plot strand to the other.

Writer Brian Lynch and director Renaud come close to pulling it all together, but it falls short. Yet even while it fails to be a linear and layered story, The Secret Life Of Pets 2 still manages to be entertaining, humourous, and it doesn't outstay its welcome.

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