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Blu-ray Review: The Secret Life of Pets 2

August 27, 2019

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

A sequel to Illumination’s 2016 animated hit The Secret Life of Pets, The Secret Life of Pets 2 pretty much offers more of the same in terms of animated pet antics, and if you enjoyed the first film like I did, then that’s a good thing.

The first film saw canine protagonist Max (Patton Oswalt) adjusting to living with another dog, the shaggy rescue mutt Duke (Eric Stonestreet). This sequel begins with the adorable little terrier having his entire world get shaken up yet again when his person Katie (Ellie Kemper) moves her new partner Chuck (Pete Holmes) into their Manhattan apartment and has a baby, a little boy named Liam.

At first Max is weary of having Liam around, but it’s not long before he embraces him, and actually becomes protective of the little human child. Flash forward a couple of years, and Max’s anxiety has increased as Liam is about to start kindergarten, with the dog not ready to let the kid go. So to give him a break from the craziness of New York City, the family decides to take a road trip to Chuck’s family farm in the country. It’s here that Max meets the film’s best new character, a gruff farm dog named Rooster (Harrison Ford, in what is surprisingly his first ever animated role). While Duke is instantly in awe of Rooster, Max initially clashes with the stoic and fiercely independent canine, who encourages the pampered city pet to toughen up and embrace the call of the wild.

Back at home, Max has asked Gidget (Jenny Slate) to watch his favourite squeaky toy, Busy Bee, while he’s away. When the fluffy little pomeranian, who has a not-so-secret crush on Max, accidentally loses the toy and it ends up in a cat lady’s apartment, she enlists the feline guidance of Chloe (Lake Bell) to help her pose as a cat so she can sneak in and get the toy back. Meanwhile, the now-domesticated bunny Snowball (Kevin Hart), who wears a superhero costume and goes by the name Captain Snowball, gets visited by a shih tzu named Daisy (Tiffany Haddish), who needs his help rescuing a white tiger cub from a circus that has rolled into town, run by the film’s bad guy Sergei (Nick Kroll).

This is one of those movies that has a lot of moving parts, with a multitude of characters who are all sent off on their own solo adventures for much of the brisk, under ninety minute running time. There are about three separate story lines that are all happening simultaneously, before inevitably converging in the finale. Because of this, the film moves at a breakneck pace, offering plenty of action and humour to keep audiences both young and old involved in the quick moving plot. It’s an approach that keeps the film entertaining, even if the actual beats of the plot are easily predictable.

The animation is colourful and vibrant, and the character designs are fun, which was one of the most appealing aspects of the first film as well. For example, Katie and Max share a resemblance in terms of design, and now Chuck has been drawn to visually match the character of Duke, a nice touch that plays into the old idea of pets looking like their people. In the leading role, Oswalt does a fine job of taking over from Louis C.K., who voiced Max in the first film and was set to return, before being dropped from the role due to his past sexual misconduct. Ford is a great addition to the cast, essentially playing an animated dog version of himself, and the rest of the all-star voice cast has a lot of fun as well.

Bolstered by the appealing antics of an adorable cast of animated animals, The Secret Life of Pets 2 is ultimately a cute and frequently amusing sequel that I thoroughly enjoyed watching. The film also has a refreshing message about not coddling children, and how being too overprotective can be a bad thing as it keep kids from safely confronting their fears and learning from their mistakes, which allows them to become more resilient in the long run. In this era of extreme helicopter parenting, I think this is actually a pretty brave message for a mainstream animated film aimed at families, with Max needing to learn how to give Liam more independence and let him explore the world on his own.

The Blu-ray also includes a long list of bonus features, starting with the two new short films Super Gidget and Minion Scouts, which are followed by a short featurette entitled The Making of the Mini-Movies. Next up are four very brief deleted scenes (Wake Up; Duke Explores the Farm; Snowball in Training; and Secret Confessions), which add up to about two minutes in total; and A Tapestry of a Tail – The Making Of, a solid featurette that offers a nice overview of the film’s production, including how they paced the story to juggle so many different threads and characters.

This is followed by tutorials on how to draw the characters Max, Snowball and Chloe, featuring head of story Eric Favela and some furry friends; Frame by Frame – How to Make a Flip Book, also featuring Favela; a selection of short Character Pods featuring ten of the cast members (Oswalt, Hart, Stonestreet, Slate, Haddish, Bell, Kroll, Dana Carvey (Pops), Bobby Moynihan (Mel), and Ford) talking about their characters; the short piece My Buddy and Me, which features members of the cast and crew interacting with animals and talking about their own pets; and The Further Adventures of Captain Snowball, an interactive, comic book-style video.

Finally, we have Pets With Jobs – A Documentary, a short, informative piece showcasing a variety of working animals from bomb-sniffing dogs to goats who do yoga; A Party Fit for a Pet, which offers tips on how to throw a party for you and your animals; Relax the Cat: The Secret Life of Pet Massage, in which several cast members learn how to give animal massages; Pops’ Puppy Training School With Kevin Hart, which sees the comedian trying to train dogs; a montage of Production Pets; Pet’s Yule Log, a two minute reel of character antics presented as fake security camera footage; and a pair of lyric videos for the songs “Panda” and “It’s Gonna Be a Lovely Day.”

The Secret Life of Pets 2 is a Universal Pictures Home Entertainment release. It’s 86 minutes and rated G.

Street Date: August 27th, 2019

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