Illumination Studios continue their run of breezy, colourful animations with The Secret Life of Pets 2. Following on from the smash hit success of 2016's original, the latest installment focuses again on the dogs, cats, and various other furry/scaly creatures that inhabit a block of flats in
As that brief overview suggests, the narrative of The Secret Life of Pets 2 is convoluted, to a fault. Returning director Chris Renaud, responsible for the all-encompassing Despicable Me series, and his co-director, Jonathan del Val, seem to have struggled to find a distinctive hook for this latest instalment. For its flaws, the original at least had a clear narrative, acting as essentially Toy Story-with-fluffy-animals. Plotlines come and go, with the film unable to decide if it is a metaphor for the arrival of a younger sibling, a critique of the use of animals in the circus, an exploration of modern masculinity or just a sweet story of a dog pretending to be a cat to rescue a squeaky toy. The very best animated films have a clear narrative to follow, something that is lacking here.
Away from the film's plot, proceedings are bright and lavishly animated as audiences have come to expect from Illumination. It jumps from engaging interaction to engaging interaction, with many sweet observations of pets and their owners. It benefits from a game, excitable voice cast with the returning cast all fitting nicely back into their roles. Kevin Hart stands out as the hyperactive Snowball, a role that feels the perfect vehicle for his brand of comedy, whilst Jenny Slate returns with an endearingly manic energy. But the real standouts here are the new inclusions. Harrison Ford feels suitably cast as a gruff, authoritative guard dog, whilst Tiffany Haddish is sweetly, sassy as a dog seeking Snowball's help. But the real coup is Patton Oswalt who steps in to provide the voice of Max. As was the case in Ratatouille, Oswalt brings a warmth and a vulnerability to Max that makes him much more agreeable than in the last film.
The Secret Life of Pets 2 is brisk and pleasant, even if the narrative feels convoluted and, eventually, minor. It benefits greatly from a likeable cast even if it won't leave much of an impression once the credits have rolled. It is all very enjoyable and will scratch the animated family film itch as we wait for the animated behemoth barrelling towards us that is Toy Story 4.