The 2016 animated hit “The Secret Life of Pets” is a textbook example of a wonderful premise wasted. The concept — what pets do when their owners are away — is certainly clever. But the film took its characters on a series of increasingly silly, and sometimes even scary, diversions.
“The Secret Life of Pets 2” is more of the same. This time, the diversions are even sillier and the scares more frightening. Young and old fans of the first film will likely enjoy the second outing for Max and friends. But enjoyment of “Pets 2” requires extremely lowered expectations. Make no mistake, this is disappointing family fare.
What’s the story? Max, a stressed Jack Russell terrier, faces some major changes after his owner gets married and has a child. Max becomes overprotective of the boy, but a family trip to the country gives him a chance to overcome his fears. Meanwhile, his white Pomeranian friend Gidget must rescue Max’s favorite toy, and white rabbit Snowball attempts to rescue a white tiger from a circus.
Stop, and read that description again. It should tell you everything you need to know about why “The Secret Life of Pets 2” is such a convoluted slog. The story of Max and his owner’s child is sweet, and would have been a more than sufficient plot for the entire film. Instead, it becomes an afterthought. “Pets” spends far too much time on Gidget’s quest to find Max’s toy and — most egregiously — Snowball’s inane rescue mission.
What’s the rating? PG for some action and rude humor. It is worth noting that my 4-year-old daughter was very scared by both the evil circus owner who imprisoned the white tiger, and the owner’s evil wolves. These sequences were far too dark and unnecessary. Animal abuse is a serious issue, and it is one that families and children should discuss. But its presence here is for audience manipulation only. If filmmakers want to go “there,” they’d better have a reason.
Is the voice cast strong, at least? The voice cast for “The Secret Life of Pets” was strong, and the voice cast for its sequel is even stronger. For starters, disgraced comic Louis C.K. was jettisoned for the always welcome Patton Oswalt. The delightful Jenny Slate returns as Gidget, as does the talented Kevin Hart as Snowball. While the loud-mouthed bunny may be an annoyance as a character, Hart’s vocal work is once again strong.
The real thrill is the addition of Harrison Ford as Rooster, a seen-it-all farm dog who teaches Max some important life lessons. Hearing Ford growl through the role is a treat. The actor’s work is the best thing about “Pets 2,” by far.
Is there anything else parents need to know? Yes, and it’s something very important: “Toy Story 4” opens on June 20. Save your money and your time for Woody and Buzz.