It’s probably only a matter of time before Illumination’s The Secret Life of Pets franchise is adapted into a TV series, and when that day comes, it would be easy to divide The Secret Life of Pets 2 into a handful of forgettable episodes to go along with other low-stakes adventures for neurotic dog Max and his animal friends. Secret Life 2 doesn’t really have a central plot, instead running through three mostly unrelated subplots and a handful of little vignettes, all related to the pets living in Max’s New York City apartment complex.
Max (voiced by Patton Oswalt, taking over for the no-longer-family-friendly Louis C.K.), who was insecure about his human owner Katie (Ellie Kemper) getting a second dog in the previous movie, now has to contend with a household that includes not only fellow dog Duke (Eric Stonestreet), but also Katie’s new husband and baby. Max becomes intensely protective of toddler Liam, so when the whole family heads off to a rural ranch for vacation, he’s horrified at the dangers all around him, and has to be coached by veteran farm dog Rooster (Harrison Ford) on how to be brave and bold.
Meanwhile, back in the city, formerly villainous rabbit Snowball (Kevin Hart) has decided that he’s now a crime-fighting superhero, and he joins with a Shih Tzu named Daisy (Tiffany Haddish) to rescue a captive tiger cub from a circus run by a miscreant who looks like an off-brand version of fellow Illumination character Gru (from the Despicable Me movies). Finally (and least interestingly), pampered, fluffy dog Gidget (Jenny Slate) must infiltrate the apartment of a cat-hoarding old lady in order to retrieve the precious toy that Max has entrusted to her care while he’s away.
Even with an evil circus impresario in the mix, Secret Life 2 has very little genuine conflict, and none of its stories carry any weight for the characters or for the overall underground world of pets, which is barely relevant this time around. The lives of these pets aren’t very secret, and Max’s entire story actually revolves around his interactions with humans.
The concept of the first movie was a pretty obvious riff on the Toy Story and Wreck-It Ralph formulas, but it was a pleasant-enough time-waster, tolerable for parents who needed to occupy their kids for 90 minutes. Secret Life 2 doesn’t bother to expand the franchise’s world or deepen the characters’ relationships, instead throwing together stories that are barely fit for a second-rate children’s picture book.
Despite the lifeless plotting and the dull characters, Secret Life 2 still benefits from gorgeous, detailed animation, a reminder that while most of Illumination’s movies are irritating at best and actively infuriating at worst, they’re at least usually visually accomplished. The pets here are cute and expressive, even when the celebrity voice actors bring minimal energy to their performances.
Kids will probably laugh at the poop and fart jokes and clamor for merchandise featuring the animal characters, but Secret Life 2 doesn’t teach them anything valuable (if anything, Max’s storyline enforces some uncomfortably old-fashioned gender roles) or achieve any emotional resonance. It’s the movie equivalent of the toy in a fast-food kids’ meal.