The Secret Life of Pets 2
Children’s films generally have a low-bar in order to be considered worthy of viewing. Some humor is needed, and to make kids laugh is usually much easier than it is with adults. There also needs to be important lessons infused in the narrative and absorbed by characters. However, in the increasingly desperate cinematic marketplace, studios are skipping over these valuable and important aspects, and throwing flicks at the multiplexes that compromise the unsaid pact parents and filmmakers had made.
The Secret Life of Pets 2 (2019) is the inevitable sequel to the 2016 surprise hit. This film follows the same characters on different trajectories Max the dog (Patton Oswalt replacing the disgraced Louis C.K.) has his owner’s baby to worry about as well as a trip to the country-side. Primped Gidget (Jenny Slate) has to infiltrate a cat-lady’s house to get back a lost toy, and bunny Snowball (Kevin Hart) dons a super-hero cape to help free a circus tiger.
The previous film’s initial concept was curious enough, wondering what our urbanized pets would act like when owners weren’t at home. There were a few laughs in the first film, but it unfortunately fell down a road of stealing much of Toy Story’s (1995) storyline and resorting to incredible amounts of violence for a children’s film. Given that the lessons from Toy Story are always important to learn, this cheap ploy to use violence to entertain children was bypassed by some parents; helping make the first film such a hit.
This sequel seemed to struggle heavily with meeting the time requirements of a feature-length film. There are interminable amounts of subplots that try and lengthen the film and its ideas beyond their 20 minutes’ worth. This expanse of different stories would have been rewarding if they came together in the finale, but many of the threads are forgotten half-way, and never amount to anything significant. Only Max’s journey in the country-side, learning to be braver, has any true material that could have made the core of this film; the rest of the arcs were flat and seemed more suited to a Netflix animated series. The result is a certain shallowness that revolves around all of the returning and new characters, with no real lessons conveyed to kids.
The violence seemed to have been toned down for much of the film, but the substituted jokes only drew lazy smirks from the children at my viewing and rolling eyes from parents. The filmmakers were clearly a bit reluctant to work too hard on original humor or entertainment, which led them to resort to the easy and yet horrifying display of violence towards the end. Violence is seen everywhere on screens today, but to see it so blatantly displayed on a PG-rated film that is supposedly “safe” for families was disgusting. Violence has always entertained children, just take the Tom & Jerry cartoons for evidence, but this doesn’t mean it should be used in cowardly fashion in order to get their approval as viewers, because filmmakers don’t want to brainstorm longer. The Secret Life of Pets 2 goes to extremes, with a character holding another one’s arms back while it beats its rib-cage repeatedly. Or how the “evil” circus owner (who is a clichéd Russian) is run over vividly and purposefully twice by a speeding car, with the driving animals exclaiming “It’s OK because he’s a bad guy.” By the end of the film, the lessons of Max’s bravery were so boring that the message that kids will take home are those that surround the more hypnotic violent scenes.
In the end, The Secret Life of Pets 2 was not only a scrappily-made sequel, with lazy writing and flat character arcs, but it was also a compromise between the animated-children’s genre and parents. Just because a studio is desperate for a new hit, doesn’t mean one should take advantage and exploit the naivete of young viewers, who absorb and retain the lessons they see all around the world; including movie screens.