If a Pixar animated film is always guaranteed to produce waterworks in the first twenty minutes, then Illumination films such as Despicable Me and Minions rely more on goofy pratfalls than tearjerker moments. While being an Illumination joint, the second installment of The Secret Life of Pets at least starts with a move out of the Pixar playbook. Max (now voiced by Patton Oswalt in a barely noticed switcharoo from Louis CK) is back with his odd-couple buddy Duke, but now their owner has fallen in love and a baby is added into the mix. Unlike other dog gets ignored in favor of the baby cliches, The Secret Life of Pets 2 flips that to find that Max has fallen so in love with his new human baby Liam that the idea of Liam going to preschool or even leaving the apartment without him has given him severe stress. But before Max’s stress is revealed, the audience gets a very sweet, emotional montage of Max reluctantly warming to this new tiny human in his life. It’s a moment that’s a chip off the old Pixar for sure. This film though has an excellent knack for relishing “awwww” moments and then turning them into witty jokes.
While a lot of the jokes are sharp and the pets are adorable, the biggest problem lies in the fact that where The Secret Life of Pets really focused on Max and his struggles to make room for another dog in his home, The Secret Life of Pets 2 feels it must service the entire collection of characters introduced in the first film (while adding in more—like a Tiffany Haddish-voiced shih-tzu, which feels undeniably crafted after her personality). This sequel now is more like an ensemble sitcom where there are A, B, and C plots that eventually (and a bit haphazardly) converge at the end.
Even with all this action, there are cute standout moments, like when Gidget (winningly voiced by Jenny Slate) learns how to be a cat or Pops (voiced by Dana Carvey) teaches an adorable collection of puppies the ways of the pet world. But with all these animals getting their time, the plot feels frenetic and almost discourages any depth as the film progresses.
Maybe that scattershot storytelling and jokes not always rooted in much of anything are what kids want – see Snowball the bunny’s music video – but that really makes this animated film feel more gimmicky than timeless. But like Minions, The Secret Life of Pets 2 seems more interested in creating a film to sell merchandise than to tell stories that last.