Cute animals are fun, but they’re given less to do in formulaic sequel.
Box Office Mojo has described the original “Secret Life of Pets” as one of the best openings for an original film. “Original,” my tail, because if you read between the lines-pets having fun while their owners are away-you would acknowledge that it rips off the first “Toy Story.” Especially since two rival dogs have to deal with a crazed nut-in the form of an abandoned bunny.
So, I like to call that movie somewhat pigheaded.
That’s my negative aspect towards the first movie, but I did like the animation, voice actors, and that little Pomeranian dog Gidget (voiced by Jenny Slate) for her cute ways of falling in love with her dream dog Max.
Now, Illumination has produced “The Secret Life of Pets 2,” which offers a variety of good ideas, but somehow, it has to rely on a short time length and leaves the subplots underwritten. I caught this at a 3pm screening last Saturday, and I acknowledge that kids and their parents will have a fun time with this, but not so much for a different type of audience.
Why don’t I try this review in the style of Roger Ebert’s review of “The Hudsucker Proxy,” when he used his shoulder angel and devil to examine it?
Angel: It still offers a variety of delightful moments. The best in particular is a dream sequence when Gidget fantasizes about marrying Max (now voiced by Patton Oswalt, following Louis CK’s termination from the project), and raising his favorite toy ball. That’s adorable, and it reminded me of Kermit and Miss Piggy.
Devil: the cute sequence has to end when Gidget loses the ball in a cat-infested apartment, and turns to the fat cat Chloe (voiced by Lake Bell) to train her to become one-complete with the ears and tail sock. Now, this is jolly, but it has to be so short in the narrative.
Angel: Harrison Ford makes his animated debut as Rooster, a tough-as-nails Welsh sheepdog, who trains Max to overcome his fears. Reason is his owner Katie (voiced by Ellie Kemper) has a baby boy, and ever since, he’s become stressed. His rude attitude and well-meaning nature reminded me of Bryan Cranston’s canine character Chief in “Isle of Dogs.”
Devil: in this side, there are annoying gags and supporting characters, like a ditzy lamb who breaks loose from his pen, a turkey who loves chasing Max, and a cow who retaliates against Duke’s (voiced by Eric Stonestreet) bovine stereotypes. A friendly reminder: Duke is Max’s roommate. I felt they’re only written to appease to a new generation of movie-goers, while in my youth, I grew up on the animated “Charlotte’s Web.”
Angel: Kevin Hart is back and still energized as Snowball, the now reformed bunny, who takes up the superhero gig (Captain Snowball’s the name), after his sweet owner Molly (voiced by Kiely Renaud) gives him blue and yellow pajamas and a mask. He has silly-hearted moments, battling a circus monkey and dodging angry wolves, and Max and Chloe’s reaction towards him reminded me of David Alan Grier’s character in the under-appreciated comedy “Blankman.”
Devil: this subplot has to be typical. A Shih Tzu (voiced by Tiffany Haddish) recruits Captain Snowball to help her free an abused white tiger from a traveling circus. The problem is the generically evil circus master (voiced by Nick Kroll). He has to wear a black suit and hat (splicing Snidely Whiplash and Boris Badenov), and be given a Russian accent, thus making him look like a cartoon villain.
Now comes the conclusion of this review, when the angel and devil join forces. Did I love the movie or did I hate it? No and No; I’m in the middle on it. I liked the energy, animation, cute moments, voice actors, and flexibility; but I wanted more out of it, like Max and Gidget’s relationship and where that will go. Besides, “Hotel Transylvania 2,” another animated sequel from 4-years-ago, was a much more humiliatingly comprehensive animated sequel than this, so I gotta give this movie credit for that.
Opens Everywhere June 7