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"THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS 2"
(2019) (voices of Patton Oswalt, Kevin Hart) (PG)


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QUICK TAKE:
Computer-Animated Comedy: Various house pets who live in the same New York apartment building get into adventures and misadventures in the city and on a rural farm while their owners remain oblivious.
PLOT:
Max (voice of PATTON OSWALT) has settled into a comfortable New York City lifestyle, living with his perky owner, Katie (voice of ELLIE KEMPER), and having made peace with big dog Duke (voice of ERIC STONESTREET). But his life is turned upside down when Katie gets married and gives birth to a baby boy, Liam (eventually voiced by HENRY LYNCH). Max is a bundle of nerves, feeling it's his responsibility to keep the baby, then the toddler safe and out of danger.

Eventually, this family of five goes on a road trip to a rural farm in upstate New York. By now, Max has been fitted with a cone to try and get him to stop his nervous scratching. When the dangers of the new setting start to prove overwhelming, he comes under the gruff tutelage of Rooster (voice of HARRISON FORD), the farm's main herding dog who keeps the sheep and cows in line and teaches Max to stop worrying and be the dog his family needs him to be.

Back in New York, the other pets in Max's building are getting into all sorts of trouble. Gidget the poodle (voice of JENNY SLATE) has lost Max's beloved squeaky ball, which accidentally bounced out of her apartment window and into the rental unit of an elderly woman with dozens of cats. She seeks the help of the catnip-hooked Chloe (voice of LAKE BELL), who gives her a makeover as a cat. Meanwhile, Snowbell the bunny (voice of KEVIN HART) is enlisted by a neighborhood dog named Daisy (voice of TIFFANY HADDISH) to go on a mission to save a tiger from being abused by an evil circus owner named Sergei (voice of NICK KROLL).

OUR TAKE: 5.5 out of 10
If our pets really do have secret lives a la the "Toy Story" toys -- ones in which they have little adventures and misadventures when we're not home -- then I feel sorry for my dog, Bear. I full-time telecommute. Unless I am at a movie screening or doing something with my wife and/or daughter, I'm pretty much always at home. And we live in a neighborhood filled with other dogs (and quite a number of cats).

When I take Bear for walks, it's often like a chorus of woofs and barks from the various houses we pass. Before "The Secret Life of Pets 2" and its 2016 predecessor, I always assumed the different pups and canines were yelling at us "Don't pee on our landscaping!" or "You better have a bag to clean that up!" or just simply "Lemme out! Lemme out!"

But maybe they're ragging on poor Bear. Maybe they're like, "Aren't you EVER going to get rid of that ridiculous man? Is he ever going to go back to an office setting, eight hours a day, five days a week? What a loser you are, Bear!" Maybe that's why he indeed urinates on every bit of landscaping along a certain stretch of my neighborhood. I thought he was just showing off for the other Bob Barkers. Seriously, the animal's aim from blind angles is absurd. But that might be his only way of getting back at those furry bullies.

"The Secret Life of Pets 2" works best when it's having fun imagining what apartment life in New York City is like when a building mostly clears out each morning when its human occupants go to work. Dogs play their favorite tunes, cats get high on catnip, a poodle takes a sauna in a dishwasher, a bulldog downs a bag of chips, etc. It also works really well when the various house pets develop psychological complexes anytime their world is slightly changed.

The most neurotic of all of them is a little dog, Max (voice of Patton Oswalt, taking over for the ... uh ... no longer available Louis C.K.) Into his happy existence with human owners Katie and Chuck and good mutt buddy Duke (voice of Eric Stonestreet) comes -- GASP! -- a baby! Little Liam soon warms his way into Max's heart, and suddenly he sees everything dangerous thing New York City has to offer. A family trip to a farm upstate does little to calm his nerves as there are dangers there that he never dreamed of.

The Max and his family storyline is the best of three running throughout the film. It's the funniest, simplest, and has the most heart. I also liked Gidget the Poodle (voice of Jenny Slate) having to take lessons from stoned cat Chloe (voice of Lake Bell) on how to pass as a cat so she can gain entry to an elderly lady's apartment filled with cats to retrieve Max's favorite squeaky toy that Max entrusted her with while he was away.

Less successful is a subplot involving over-caffeinated bunny Snowball (voice of Kevin Hart) helping a neighborhood dog named Daisy (voice of Tiffany Haddish) save a circus tiger being abused by an evil trainer. The storyline is a bit dark for this kind of flick, with the animal being whipped and abused in a handful of scenes, and it feels more like a "Madagascar" plotline or something from another movie. Tigers don't exactly make good pets, and "Circuses Are Evil" is a bit heavy-handed for tweens and pre-tweens.

Fortunately, two good storylines outweigh one, and I am giving "Pets 2" a recommendation. This marks the first time Harrison Ford voices a character in a major animated film, and he's great as Rooster the farm dog who teaches Max to be brave and find his bark. The voice work overall is a delight, with Oswalt, Bell, and Haddish doing especially memorable work. I look forward to catching this with Bear in a few months' time on pay-per-view or Blu-Ray. That trusty hound. He never leaves my side ... even when he wants to. I give it a 5.5 out of 10. (T. Durgin)




Reviewed June 4, 2019 / Posted June 7, 2019


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