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As a reviewer, I have seen so many arguments and comments thrown at films, studios, brands, and what have you, that are clichéd and boring. One of the most boring and trite comments and arguments I keep seeing are about Illumination Entertainment. Listen, I’m not saying their films are secretly good, or you have to stop hating on them. I will say though that they aren’t lazy. They have talented animators and people there making these films that rake in millions. However, I would argue a more proper criticism would be that they lack ambition, and are too nervous to step out of their safety bubble to expand their horizons of writing and storytelling. There is nothing wrong with not wanting to be a Disney or a Pixar-caliber film, but that doesn’t mean you slack off on the writing, animation, and story. Sooner or later, you will find yourself being forgotten for the next flashy animated experience. It’s actually kind of happening to Illumination’s newest film, The Secret Life of Pets 2. Directed by Illumination Entertainment mainstay Chris Renaud, Pets 2 is the sequel to the smash hit original film from 2016. It came out on June 7th of 2019, and while it was getting the usual mixed-to-mostly-negative reviews, it wasn’t the instant smash hit most of their films tend to be, financially. While it has made $203 mil on its $80 mil budget as of writing this review, it’s not the runaway hit as their other films were. Sure, it’s probably going to make more money as time goes on and after leaving theaters, but it is interesting to see this happen. Are people finally getting tired of Illumination’s style of filmmaking, or was a possibly good film caught victim in 2019’s summer film drought? Well, let’s dive into this world of fluffy animal shenanigans.
The story once again follows our hero Max, a small dog now voiced by Patton Oswalt. Along with his buddy Duke, voiced by Eric Stonestreet, they are happy with their current life with their owner Katie, voiced by Ellie Kemper. That is, until Katie falls in love with a man she meets named Chuck, voiced by Pete Holmes. After the two get married, they have a kid, and while at first Max and the new kid don’t get along, Max soon begins to love him, and then becomes overly protective and afraid of the world around him. To solve this issue, he and Duke go on a trip to the countryside to a farm, and end up meeting an old sheep dog named Rooster, voiced by Harrison Ford. While this is going on, two other stories are happening. The second story revolves around Gidget, a pomeranian voiced by Jenny Slate, who ends up losing Max’s favorite toy inside the crazy cat lady’s home, and must get the help of Chloe, voiced by Lake Bell, to learn the ways of the cat to get it back. The third story revolves around Snowball, voiced by Kevin Hart, who is contacted by a shih tzu named Daisy, voiced by Tiffany Haddish to help save a tiger that is being held hostage by a cruel circus owner that is voiced by Nick Kroll.
Yeah, if that sounds like a lot, then it is. Once again, we find Illumination having trouble trying to stretch out plots that could fill the 80+ minute runtime, and it’s not like they couldn’t have. Some of these plots might be generic with typical animated tropes that you have seen before, but at least it would have been focused. They could have easily made this film entirely around Max and Rooster’s dynamic, because the theme of overcoming your fears is not a bad one. I actually enjoyed bits and pieces of Max and Rooster’s relationship with one another, and in a better movie, they probably would have explored the idea of how to overcome your fears. It’s not executed in the best way possible, but I give them credit for at least trying a little. That theme does connect the three stories, but the pacing and flow of the three stories in the film is so awkward, that it keeps abruptly pushing you into each story as it unfolds. It comes off like they weren’t fully sure on how to keep you interested with the multitude of characters that are in the previous film that are now in this film. Most of them don’t really do much, or do anything to help the story. It’s a case of too many characters, huge expensive names attached to them, and they are given little to do. I remember a friend of mine suggesting that this franchise should turn to making a series of shorts or a TV series, and that would make sense. That way, you can flesh everyone out more, and not have to worry about using them, because you forgot to do something with them. The final act has decent action, but due to how low the stakes are, it’s hard to feel invested. Like, it’s so hard to care about half of the storylines because they either end abruptly, or the characters vanish for a mass majority of the film, like the kid and the owner’s new husband. There was seriously no reason to hire Pete Holmes for the role of the husband. He has, like, four lines in the film, and they could have been done by Jeff Bennett or Steve Blum.
Now, it’s time for some positives. I found the animation to be quite good. It’s another sign that Illumination is still getting better at their animation skills. Character movements and facial expressions are vibrant, and once again, they get little animal characteristics down for the different pets that you see. I also enjoyed the voice cast. Patton Oswalt takes over for Louis C.K. as Max, and to be frank, Patton Oswalt is a way better Max. He knows how to capture that casual innocence of a dog. Harrison Ford is also a pleasant surprise as this was his first voice-over role. Isn’t that surprising? His first voice-over role in his entire career. Anyway, he captures Rooster’s stoic nature, but he also shows he isn’t just a hard-edged individual. Of course, Lake Bell steals any scene that she is in as this pedantic sarcastic cat. The others do a good job, and it was fun to see Dana Carvey as his old dog character from the first film, have a few good laughs in this film with his character interacting with a bunch of puppies.
There isn’t a whole lot to say about The Secret Life of Pets 2. It’s a dull experience. It might be the most forgettable film Illumination Entertainment has made yet. It might be making a bit of money, but with Toy Story 4 out right now, it’s probably going to dry up. Maybe this is a sign that people are getting tired of Illumination Entertainment, or maybe it’s just a realization that this was never meant to be a big theatrical franchise. Maybe it’s time for them to start making this into a series of shorts, or a TV series for Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime. Maybe with a TV design philosophy, they can flex their creative muscles. All I know is that there is no reason to see this in theaters. I would have been much happier that, since this was animated by a French studio, if it was a smaller character-focused story that has a more laid-back vibe to it. People tend to not know that many French/European/Foreign animated features have very laid-back paces and stories, and that is something American studios can learn from overseas studios. Anyway, it’s time to move onto something that’s more interesting to talk about. Next time, we will talk about one of three Netflix-exclusive animated features out this year with Pachamama. Thanks for reading! I hope you all enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!