The main conceit of the franchise of ‘The Secret Life of Pets’ is that all the pets have personalities and characteristics much like humans, but they are still beholden to the animal behaviours of the species they belong to. When their owners are not around, they act just like people and walk around freely and use human things to their benefits, but still within the realm of their animalistic traits. I remember the first movie to be funny and filled with hilarious gags -- most especially because they capture the animal behaviours so well and use it for comedic effect -- but outside of the comedy, I didn’t have much of a connection to the story.
In fact, I don’t remember much of it except that it had a forced buddy relationship much like that of ‘Toy Story’ between Woody and Buzz Lightyear.
What surprised me a lot was that the sequel, simply known as ‘The Secret Life of Pets 2’ is still hilarious and this time, manages to string together three seemingly separate stories within one film and then lets them crash together at the finale with some rather touching and powerful results.
'The Secret Life of Pets 2’ begins with a quick intro on what has happened to Max and Duke since we last left them and now, there’s a baby in the mix. This is just a catalyst for Max to find himself gaining a newfound anxiety over the world as he bonds completely with little Liam.
But as his anxieties get worse, his owner and her new husband takes the family and the two pets, Max and Duke, to the farm where Max comes face to face with Rooster, a farm dog voiced by Harrison Ford. Of course, Max, the city dog, finds Rooster annoying whereas the more innocent Duke thinks Rooster is really cool.
Back in the city, Snowball has begun to take on the identity of a superhero because his human dresses him up as one and he vows to protect all the animals of the city as his sworn duty. When Daisy, a cute shih tzu voiced by Tiffany Haddish, comes back from the airport from an out of town trip, she shares the story of seeing a captive tiger cub called Hu being maltreated by the circus owner Sergei. Immediately, Daisy and Snowball come to the rescue.
The third story belongs to Gidget, the rather neurotic poodle who is in love with Max. She was asked to care for Max’s favorite toy while he leaves for the farm, but it accidentally falls out of her window into the apartment of an old cat lady. She asks Chloe, the oversize cat, to help her learn to “become” a cat so she can infiltrate the apartment to retrieve Max’s toy.
Each story moves at its own pace and it seemingly has its own themes within its narratives. It’s a lot of fun and there’s so much hilarity and chaos that’s happening that’s enjoyable, but there is also a feeling that it’s an episode of television rather than a movie as it portrays three sets of characters going through an A plot, B plot, and C plot like what most Western television shows follow.
What is amazing about ‘The Secret Life of Pets 2’ is that the film manages to stitch all three narratives together by the end and it becomes this film about facing change and growing as a person and that can mean anything from facing your fears and becoming brave, to believing that you can be what you pretend to be, and also learning to become something that you are not.
And while the plot stirs us to the big rescue of Hu, the adorable tiger cub, this manages to still culminate into a wonderful story about Max and his favorite human in the world, the little child Liam. The way the film manages to equate how pets deal with their human charges as an allegory to parenthood is quite apparent, but it’s still rather well-done because it’s not so spoonfed in its delivery.
I wasn’t expecting much from this film because I don’t have much connection to the first film, but I think it is safe to say that ‘The Secret Life of Pets 2’ is way better than the first and I’m really interested now to see what they will come up with if they decide to do another. Now it isn’t just comedy that they are offering, but something much more.