“THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS 2” — 2½ stars — Voices of Patton Oswalt, Kevin Hart, Harrison Ford, Eric Stonestreet, Jenny Slate, Tiffany Haddish; PG (some action and rude humor); in general release; running time: 86 minutes
SALT LAKE CITY — One of the biggest challenges — and successes — of the last two “Avengers” movies has been the way they’ve managed a sprawling cast of characters. The solution was to build each movie around a single character’s story arc; for “Infinity War” it was Thor, and for “Endgame,” Iron Man.
Chris Renaud’s “The Secret Life of Pets 2” has a similar challenge, albeit on a much smaller scale, and though Illumination’s film has plenty of cute and funny moments to please the audience, the overall product struggles to meet the task.
With “Pets 2,” we return to the same New York apartment building that hosted the first film and introduced a host of domestic pets and their interconnected comic lives. All the regulars are back, including Max the dog (voiced by Patton Oswalt, who replaced Louis C.K.), his bubbly white love interest Ginger (Jenny Slate), and reformed street bunny Snowball (Kevin Hart), who has now taken up a more domesticated existence.
As the film begins, Max is seeing a lot of change in his own domestic situation. His owner Katie (Ellie Kemper) has married a lug named Chuck (Pete Holmes) and given birth to a little boy named Liam (Henry Lynch). After a rough start, Max and roommate Duke (Eric Stonestreet) form a strong bond with Liam and are dreading his impending date with preschool.
At this point, the film splits into three narratives, which try to track the primary three characters and most all the peripheral pets, including a couple of new additions.
In Story A, Max and Co. take a trip out of the city to visit Chuck’s uncle’s farm, where they meet a grouchy sheep dog named Rooster (Harrison Ford), who teaches them about bravery.
Story B, back in the city, follows Ginger, who Max has left in charge of his favorite squeaky toy — and which she promptly loses. In order to get it back, she has to recruit help from some of the other local pets to infiltrate an apartment full of near-feral cats.
Finally, in Story C, Snowball meets a new dog named Daisy (Tiffany Haddish), who convinces him to help her free a rare white tiger cub from the evil clutches of a circus owner named Sergei (Nick Kroll).
Naturally, the stories eventually tie together, but for much of the movie, “Pets 2” skips from storyline to storyline, and the third act merger feels more calculated than genuine, especially since Liam seems to be forgotten for much of the film. Given that the entire production only clocks in at 86 minutes, it’s easy to think that the split has as much to do with filling time as anything else.
Still, most audiences probably won’t care, since “Pets 2” is packed with enough jokes, goofy animation and relatable “my pet does that, too!” moments to paper over its flaws. It does have some genuinely funny and exciting moments, like a tense sequence as Max and Rooster are trying to rescue a sheep on a perilous cliff, and it’s pretty fun to hear Ford’s voice in such an unfamiliar context.
In perspective, “The Secret Life of Pets 2” is a pretty typical sequel, a funny B-list animated feature that should be enough to keep the kids happy right now, even if most people will have a tough time remembering much about the movie in a year or two.
Rating explained: “The Secret Life of Pets 2” is rated PG for cartoon violence and some vulgarity, including an odd use of the word “pissed.”