“The Secret Life of Pets 2” is a marked improvement on the original movie. Its computer generated animation is up-to-date (though I saw it in 3-D and can’t recommend that additional expense). Its characters are much more interesting than they were in the 2016 movie.
And the story is fascinating. We are used to seeing TV shows and movies using two stories, intercut. Often they are versions of the same story — if Sheldon learns a lesson about self-restraint, maybe Penny does, too, at the same time, though in different scenes.
In “Pets 2” we get three stories. They are completely separate, though their characters know each other. And writer Brian Lynch has managed to get two of them to come together so that two of the three sub-sets of characters have direct responsibility for the climax. The third set is there to provide a ride back to the neighborhood.
Admittedly, the plot isn’t equal to the one in “Bleak House.” But for a “family” movie, the story in “Secret Life of Pets 2” is refreshingly complicated. And the whole is told so well that even fairly young children will be able to follow along.
As they do, they won’t be getting the straight and hackneyed multiculturalist take on life for a change. Not only does this movie preach “tough love,” but its villains are all characters with Slavic accents — a circus-animal trainer who looks like a witch and his henchmen wolves. No, wolves are not good, just because they have been moved off the plains by agriculturalists.
Departure from convention of this sort seems good. Then, too, the movie has a core of real “voice acting” talents, including local hero Eric Stonestreet. Some of the contributors will be familiar — Kevin Hart again gives voice to Snowball, the bunny with the short man complex. Harrison Ford has been brought in to speak for Rooster, the canny farm dog.
Movie fans will know Tiffeny Haddish and Lake Bell. In their search for skill, the producers have cast Dana Carvey, a proven talent if ever there was one, as older dog Pops.
But they’ve also dared to use some less-well-known actors — Patton Oswalt (as story hero Max) and Jenny Slate (as his would-be girl friend Gidget), for instance.
One of the stories has to do with Max and his learning to adjust to change. One has to do with Gidget’s attempt to learn the ways of cats so that she can enter the apartment of the building’s cat lady to retrieve a rubber toy Max asked her to keep safe for him.
The third story is about Snowball, the self-proclaimed super hero, and an adventure he is lured into by Daisy (Haddish), who wants to save a friendly tiger cub from the demeaning and violent training methods of the circus witch. The thoughtful viewer is asked to wonder just a little bit about how the tiger’s training is different from Gidget’s cat-impersonating training or Max’s farm dog, boot camp training.
That same viewer may also wonder if we haven’t cast Slavs as film villains a little too often the last half century. But we’ll be willing to swallow that objection because of how much we like the film’s understanding of animals.
Lynch has dogs cold. He knows how they attach themselves to and protect human babies. He knows how much they like to get outside and how much they love to ride in cars — for the smells. He knows and shows how aloof they can be, and how playful. And how decent and hard-working.
And talk about aloof, he has cats right, too, as even cat fanciers will admit. The big moggy with Lake Bell’s voice knows just what Gidget needs to do to behave like a cat. Now the rabbit — actually the bunny is like the character Kevin Hart always plays. But two out of three, as Meatloaf noted, ain’t bad.
So “The Secret Life of Pets 2” really is interesting enough to keep parents or grandparents awake as it entertains their young pups. And compared to “Pets 1,” the new movie is nearly a masterpiece.