The Secret Life of Pets 2
(L-R): Henry Lynch voices Liam, Patton Oswalt voices Max and Eric Stonestreet voices Duke in directors Chris Renaud and Jonathan del Val’s animated family comedy sequel, ‘The Secret Life of Pets 2.’

Title: ‘The Secret Life of Pets 2’

Director: Chris Renaud; Co-Director: Jonathan Del Val

Featuring the voices of: Patton Oswalt, Kevin Hart, Tiffany Haddish, Harrison Ford, Eric Stonestreet, Jenny Slate, Lake Bell, Hannibal Buress, Nick Kroll, Dana Carvey, Ellie Kemper and Bobby Moynihan

People often rely on their pets for comfort, but it’s not as common to ponder how animals depend just as much on their humans for emotional support. But the deep bond between pets and the families that own them is once again exhiliratingly, and equally sentimentally, explored in the latest installment of ‘The Secret Life of Pets‘ series. The much-anticipated sequel to the hit 2016 animated comedy further continues the investigation into not only what pets do when their owners leave them home alone, but how their mutual love for each other influences them to always take extreme measures to help protect their human family.

Universal Pictures is set to release ‘The Secret Life of Pets 2‘ in theaters on Friday. The family adventure film was directed by Chris Renaud, co-helmed by Jonathan Del Val and written by Brian Lynch, all of whom returned to the franchise after working on the original movie.

‘The Secret Life of Pets 2’ follows terrier Max (Patton Oswalt) as he copes with some major life changes. His owner, Katie (Ellie Kemper), is now married and has a toddler, Liam. Max is so worried about protecting the boy that he develops a nervous tic. On a family trip to a farm, Max and Katie’s other dog, mutt Duke (Eric Stonestreet), encounter hostile and terrifying foes, all of who only elevates Max’s anxiety. Luckily, Max gets some guidance from veteran farm dog, Rooster (Harrison Ford), who pushes Max to ditch his neuroses, find his inner alpha and give Liam a little more freedom.

Meanwhile, Max and Duke’s fellow friends in the rest of their New York City apartment face challenges of their own while the duo is vacationing. While her owner is away, perky Pomeranian Gidget (Jenny Slate) tries to rescue Max’s favorite toy from a cat-packed apartment. She seeks a little help from her feline friend, Chloe (Lake Bell), who has discovered the joys of catnip.

Hyper-but-cute bunny Snowball (Kevin Hart) gets delusions of grandeur that he’s an actual superhero after his owner Molly starts dressing him in superhero pajamas. But when Daisy (Tiffany Haddish), a fearless Shih Tzu, shows up to ask for Snowball’s help on a dangerous mission while Molly’s at school. He’ll have to summon the courage to become the hero he’s only been pretending to be in front of Daisy. Max, Snowball, Gidget and the rest of their friends must find the inner courage to face their biggest fears while on their respective missions to not only save their humans, but also each other.

Illumination, the animation studio that’s owned by Universal Pictures and produced both entries in the ‘Secret Life of Pets’ franchise, once again crafted polished and vibrant visuals for the sequel. Like it’s groundbreaking predecessor, the new follow-up features lively depictions of not only the diverse New York City neighborhoods and farmland that Max and his friends venture through in order to achieve their missions, but also enchantingly renders the distinct physical differences of all the pets.

Not only does ‘The Secret Life of Pets 2′ continue the captivating legacy of the series’ animation, but it also maintains the intertwining heart-warming sentiments and crowd-pleasing humor that made the original film so successful. Max evolves from an at-times self-centered pet who wanted all of Katie’s attention in the first movie to whole-heartedly embracing his new connections with not only Duke, but also Liam, in the second comedy. Max also serves as the beacon of hope throughout the new story, as he learns to muster the confidence he needs to achieve his goals from Rooster, and not allow any person-or other pet-to deter him from getting what he wants.

While taking Max and Duke out of New York City for a brief part of the story helps Max mature and revitalizes the gimmick from the original film, it also makes the overarching plot feel disjointed. Part of the appeal of the first movie is the high-tension and comedic banter between the pets as they try to overcome their foes, which is partially lost as Max, Gidget and Snowball and their allies embark on their own respective adventures. When the friends finally reunite in the third act of the follow-up, the selfless actions and motivations that Max and his friends learn to embrace are overshadowed by their adventure in stopping their last remaining enemy.

Overall, ‘The Secret Life of Pets 2’ is a charming, alluring sequel to one of the most beloved and top-grossing animated family films of all time. The emotional evolution of the pets is even stronger and more captivating in the sequel than its predecessor, as they demonstrate an even higher sense of bravery as they face even bigger challenges than ever before. The new follow-up is the rare exception in broad comedy, as it fearlessly includes a heartrending message that makes parents feel less alone in their struggles to find a balance in protecting their children, and allowing them to find their own way in the world. With the aid of its dazzling animation, the next entry in the series is able to overcome its moments of disconnection to showcase that pets really do work non-stop to protect their owners, even when they’re left on their own.

Technical: A

Acting: B+

Story: B

Overall: B+

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'The Secret Life of Pets 2'
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By Karen Benardello

As a graduate of LIU Post with a B.F.A in Journalism, Print and Electronic, Karen Benardello serves as ShockYa's Senior Movies & Television Editor. Her duties include interviewing filmmakers and musicians, and scribing movie, television and music reviews and news articles. As a New York City-area based journalist, she's a member of the guilds, New York Film Critics Online and the Women Film Critics Circle.

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