The Secret Life of Pets 2
(Chris Renaud and Jonathan del Val, 2019)
Babysitting our 4-year-old grandkids this weekend opened up the possibility of watching an animated movie that my wife couldn’t refuse, so we were off to the cinema on Saturday afternoon to take in the new Secret Lives of Pets sequel, which turned out to be the top-grossing movie of the past weekend. From the 4-year-old perspective, I can say that one was attentive through the entire film, while the other lost interest somewhere around three-quarters of the way through the 86-minute movie, possibly because the film’s three separate plots unfolding in an interwoven fashion could have been somewhat difficult for particularly young children to keep up with. So according to my highly scientific survey, 50 percent of 4-year-olds give the movie a thumbs-up rating.
Chris Renaud, who directed the original Secret Life of Pets in 2016, directed this sequel as well, sharing co-director status with Jonathan del Val, who was animation director on the first Secret Life. Most of the original cast is back, including Eric Stonestreet (of TV’s Modern Family) as the big shaggy Newfoundland mix Duke; Kevin Hart as Snowball, the white rabbit with delusions of superhero grandeur; Jenny Slate (of TV’s Parks and Rec) as the perky white Pomeranian Gidget; Lake Bell (of TV’s Children’s Hospital) as the aristocratic and obese gray cat Chloe; and Dana Carvey as the old Basset Hound Pops. Louis C.K. (after his self-destruction) has been replaced by Patton Oswalt (of TV’s King of Queens) as the voice of the Jack Russell terrier protagonist Max. Two important new characters appear in this film: Daisy the Shih Tzu, a sort-of love interest for Snowball, voiced by Tiffany Haddish (of Girls ’Trip); and Rooster, a tough and confident Welsh Sheepdog voiced by Harrison Ford. Brian Lynch, who was one of the four credited writers on the original film, returns to pen the screenplay of this sequel.
The first film was a surprise hit, raking in nearly $900 million worldwide. And what that says to Hollywood producers is “There must be a sequel to make more money again! And that sequel must come out as soon as possible, whether there is really anything more to do with these characters or not!” It could be that several storylines were brainstormed for a sequel, none of which seemed as if it would carry a full-length movie on its own, so I suppose it is Lynch who was ultimately made responsible for weaving together what are essentially three independent shorts into one loosely connected movie.
What should probably be considered the main plot involves Max and Duke, whose owner Katie (Ellie Klemper of TV’s The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt) has married and given birth to a child named Liam (Henry Lynch). Max becomes obsessively protective of Liam, and from the stress develops a nervous condition that makes him scratch at himself constantly until his vet requires him to wear a cone. Max, Duke and the family head for an uncle’s farm for a relaxing vacation where, in an animal version of City Slickers, Ford’s gruff head dog Rooster channels Jack Palance’s Curly as he teaches Max how to find his inner courage. “There,” says Rooster, ripping off Max’s cone of shame. “You’re cured.”
Meanwhile Snowball, who has decided to become a masked superhero, despite his unfortunate lack of any super powers, advertises his availability for any hero-requiring jobs. It’s newcomer Daisy who wants to hire him, to rescue a mistreated tiger cub being tormented by a ruthless and sadistic circus owner named Sergei (Nick Kroll from I Love You, Man), who bears more than a passing resemblance to the Wicked Witch of the West. Sergei has a pack of black wolves that Snowball and Daisy will have to evade in order to rescue the hapless tiger cub.
The weakest plot is the one involving Gidget, with whom Max leaves his favorite toy and who almost immediately loses the treasured object. It bounces into the apartment of a crazy cat lady, whose dozens of cats present a huge obstacle to Gidget’s recovering the toy. This leads to what may be the funniest part of the movie as Gidget seeks help from the haughty Chloe, who gives her lessons on how to impersonate a cat.
The film is pleasant and amusing enough, and does have a kind of overriding message that unifies the somewhat disparate plots: each of the main characters—Max, Snowball and Gidget—dig deep in themselves and end up finding the courage to do what they thought wasn’t possible. And there really are some genuinely funny moments. Add to that the animated film debut of Harrison Ford, whose Rooster is particularly memorable, and you’ve got a formula for success.
But that’s just it. The film seems a little too formulaic. It feels like a movie that was put together not because somebody had a great new idea for a story or a remarkable new concept for a movie’s subject matter (which, one might say, was the case with the original Secret Life of Pets, though some thought the idea for that movie was a rip-off of Toy Story). Rather, this film seems cobbled together as a sequel to a successful film in the expectation of drawing people in who had liked the first movie and wanted to see the characters again, even though it was a stretch to find something to get them to do for an hour and a half. The formula seems to have worked, since Pets 2 topped this week’s box office, handily beating out the latest X-Men movie starring Sansa Stark, and since according to Rotten Tomatoes.com audience reviews of the film are more than 90 percent positive. But success doesn’t mean it’s a great film. From my point of view, The Secret Life of Pets 2 gets a 50 percent rating on the 4-Year-Old-Twin-O-Meter. Two Jacqueline Susanns for this one.
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When Sir Galahad arrives in Camelot to fulfill his destiny, the presence of Lancelot’s illegitimate son disturbs Queen Guinevere. But the young knight’s vision of the Holy Grail at Pentecost inspires the entire fellowship of the Round Table to rush off in quest of Christendom’s most holy relic. But as the quest gets under way, Sir Gawain and Sir Ywain are both seriously wounded, and Sir Safer and Sir Ironside are killed by a mysterious White Knight, who claims to impose rules upon the quest. And this is just the beginning. When knight after knight turns up dead or gravely wounded, sometimes at the hands of their fellow knights, Gildas and Merlin begin to suspect some sinister force behind the Grail madness, bent on nothing less than the destruction of Arthur and his table. They begin their own quest: to find the conspirator or conspirators behind the deaths of Arthur’s good knights. Is it the king’s enigmatic sister Morgan la Fay? Could it be Arthur’s own bastard Sir Mordred, hoping to seize the throne for himself? Or is it some darker, older grievance against the king that cries out for vengeance? Before Merlin and Gildas are through, they are destined to lose a number of close comrades, and Gildas finds himself finally forced to prove his worth as a potential knight, facing down an armed and mounted enemy with nothing less than the lives of Merlin and his master Sir Gareth at stake.
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