'The Secret Life of Pets 2': Film Review

Less meat, more filler.

The wacky menagerie returns, adding the agreeably gruff presence of Harrison Ford as a cranky farm dog.

Taking in The Secret Life of Pets 2, the obligatory follow-up to the $875.5 million-grossing 2016 forerunner, is sort of like having a cute, overly exuberant puppy constantly vying for your undivided attention.

After a while, the adorableness begins to dissipate.

It isn’t that the sequel, directed by the returning Chris Renaud and again boosted by an energetic voice cast, doesn’t deliver on the genially amusing, if disposable, fluff — it’s just that the shtick-heavy storytelling proves even more undernourished than it was for the first outing.

The upshot is nevertheless sufficiently buoyant to charm the audiences that turned SLOP into a record-breaking box office proposition with a $104.4 million domestic opening weekend, then the largest for an original motion picture.

But given that it will have only a two-week leg up on the arrival of another animated sequel, namely Disney’s highly anticipated Toy Story 4, Illumination Entertainment’s tenth feature will likely have a shorter leash on life.

Once again leading the pack of comical critters is an average Joe, the Jack Russell terrier Max (agreeably voiced by Patton Oswalt, after originator Louis C.K.’s banishment to the doghouse), who, along with his adopted mutt brother, Duke (Eric Stonestreet), has learned to adapt to the arrival of a human pup belonging to their owner (Ellie Kemper).

Opting for a change of scenery, the whole family leaves their candy-colored Manhattan behind for a weekend in the country, where Max receives some valuable alpha-male coaching from a gruff-talking farm dog named Rooster and voiced by Harrison Ford, who handily — and gruffly — steals the show in his animated movie debut.

Back in the city, manic bunny Snowball (Kevin Hart) has delusions of superhero grandeur and joins forces with Daisy (Tiffany Haddish), a sassy Shih Tzu who's on a mission to rescue a timid white tiger from the clutches of a diabolical circus owner (Nick Kroll).

Meanwhile, plucky Pomeranian Gidget (Jenny Slate) must get schooled in the finer points of feline conduct by tubby tabby Chloe (Lake Bell) in order to infiltrate a cat-filled lair and retrieve Max’s beloved Busy Bee toy.

To his credit, Renaud nimbly zips back and forth among the parallel storylines, briskly cutting away from each just in time — before the viewer is able to realize just how little there is actually there in Brian Lynch’s thoroughly serviceable, if uninspired, scripting. It leaves you contemplating the more inventive directions the film might have taken had Lynch collaborated on the screenplay with writers who pushed it beyond being merely efficient.

Certainly the comedian-heavy cast, also including Saturday Night Live veterans Dana Carvey as the cranky basset hound Pops and Bobby Moynihan as well-meaning pug Mel, plus Hannibal Buress as his dachshund buddy, Buddy, are highly capable of delivering the character-driven goods.

And while the brightly rendered, eye-pleasing animation gets the job done, it never really ventures outside the lines established by the first adventure, preferring to remain in its proven safety zone.

Further providing a familiar throughline is the soundtrack, again composed by Alexandre Desplat with jazz-inflected orchestrations that pay homage to Scott Bradley’s Tom and Jerry scores from the '40s and '50s.

It's undeniably melodic, but as with everything else about the film, it would have been nice had the assembled menagerie been taught a few new tricks.

Production company: Illumination Entertainment
Distributor: Universal
Cast: Patton Oswalt, Kevin Hart, Eric Stonestreet, Jenny Slate, Tiffany Haddish, Lake Bell, Nick Kroll, Dana Carvey, Ellie Kemper, Chris Renaud, Hannibal Buress, Bobby Moynihan, Harrison Ford
Director: Chris Renaud
Screenwriter: Brian Lynch
Producers: Chris Meledandri, Janet Healy
Executive producer: Brett Hoffman
Production designer: Colin Stimpson
Editor: Tiffany Hillkurtz
Composer: Alexandre Desplat

Rated PG, 86 minutes