Reviewed by: Shawna Ellis
Anthropomorphism / Anthropomorphic dogs and other animals—giving them human characteristics
Coping with major life changes
Delusions of grandeur
Finding courage to face our biggest fears
Patton Oswalt … Max (voice)
Kevin Hart … Snowball (voice)
Harrison Ford … Rooster (voice)
Eric Stonestreet … Duke (voice)
Jenny Slate … Gidget (voice)
Tiffany Haddish … Daisy (voice)
Lake Bell … Chloe (voice)
Dana Carvey … Pops (voice)
Bobby Moynihan … Mel (voice)
Nick Kroll … Sergei (voice)
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“They still have their secrets.”
This second installment of “The Secret Life of Pets” offers a trio of storylines and a brief change of scenery from the New York City setting. We get another glimpse into the lives of Max the terrier (Patton Oswalt) and the big shaggy mutt Duke (Eric Stonestreet). Max and Duke are now great friends and living a comfortable life with their human Katie (Ellie Kemper). But soon, big changes take place which plunge Max into a cycle of anxiety and stress.
Gidget the dog (Jenny Slate) is still madly in love with Max, and when she makes a promise to him, she is determined to keep it… even if it means asking for help from Chloe the self-centered cat (Lake Bell).
Meanwhile, Snowball the rabbit (Kevin Hart) has embraced his life as a pet and desperately wants to live up to the heroic ideals his young owner has placed in his head. He gets that opportunity when a stranger (Tiffany Haddish) appears seeking his help.
Several other characters from “The Secret Life of Pets” make reappearances in this film, but none of these add much to the three main storylines. I felt that reprising some of these characters, especially Pops the aged bassett hound (Dana Carvey) seemed forced and ineffective. I did not enjoy his scenes, and he delivers the crudest line of dialog in the film.
However, the new characters introduced are interesting and likable. Harrison Ford makes an effective debut in an animated feature as the voice of a gruff but wise farm dog named Rooster.
The animation is an improvement upon the first film and is colorful and engaging. The voice acting is fine, but at times the writing seemed less clever than what it could have been. There is so much potential with this scenario which explores what pets do when humans aren’t around, but it never quite seems to live up to the possibilities.
With that said, I did find this film to be funnier and more light-hearted than the first, with less problematic content and more redemptive elements. The relationships between animal characters seem deeper and more authentic, and there is a sweetness, especially between one of the human characters and his dogs.
There is a continuing theme in each storyline of facing one’s fears and doing the right thing, even when it is frightening, but these positive elements may be overlooked by younger viewers, due to the outlandish situations and wild chases which take up the last third of the film.
And while there is generally less content of concern for discerning families than in the first film, there is still enough that I will detail it below.
There is a considerable amount of crude humor. A cat encourages another animal to rub its rear end in a person’s face and against a coffee cup. There is a lengthy joke about a puppy pooping in a shoe. There is a long discussion about a toddler not being potty trained and how he could become known as “one of those pee pee kids” at daycare. A dog eats “treats” he finds in a cat litterbox. A cow passes gas. Dogs lift their legs to urinate, and a cow tauntingly mimics a dog lifting its leg. A cat coughs up a hairball on her owner’s bed.
Crude language is used a handful of times. In one prominent instance, Pops loudly proclaims that “Pickles is pissed!” This evoked a huge laugh from even very young children in my viewing audience, and I could imagine some children repeating this phrase. It felt out of place and seemed completely unnecessary. Other terms used which may be objectionable to some parents include “butt,” “heck,” “idiot” and “rat turd.” One character says “holy cheese and crackers,” which is a minced oath of our Lord’s name. Thankfully I did not hear any direct misuses of God’s name.
There is refreshingly little in the way of sexual innuendo. Gidget has a blatant crush on Max, and, in a daydream scenario, she gives him a light kiss. We then see that in reality she is licking at the air flicking her tongue in and out. A male character is dressed up like a princess by his human and likes it. Thankfully this is brief and not dwelled upon.
There is one lengthy scene played for humor in which a cat has been given catnip and is acting like a person high on drugs. Young children laughed at this without understanding the true context. In a veteranarian’s office, two creepy looking kittens say “we start fires” and another cat attacks its owner. A small dog spends time in the dishwasher taking a steam bath, which might give an especially impressionable child a really bad idea.
Some scenes may be frightening or intense for very young children, including various scenes of peril from falling off cliffs, wolves chasing characters, and a sinister circus-master (Nick Kroll) who threatens animals with weapons, including a whip, an electric prod, a tranquilizer gun, a cannon, and a revolver. A car careens wildly through the streets, and a character is run over (twice). Some animals have a frightening appearance or glowing eyes.
The level of violence is similar to or a little less than the first film, but it may seem more intense for young children, because some of it involves cruel threats from a frightening human character. I saw at least one child covering her eyes during scenes involving this man.
While the previous film had dark undertones about gang violence, this one focuses more on rescuing a character from an abusive situation, and thus seems more redemptive. In particular, the character Snowball is toned down considerably, compared to his evil characterization in the preceding film and spends this movie trying to live up to an ideal.
Actually, the motives of most of the characters are much more pure and right. Max and Duke seek to protect their family, Gidget wants to keep a promise she made, Snowball is trying to be a hero, and the two new characters have good intentions and try to help others.
While this is a refreshing change, there are still no truly impactful spiritual lessons to be learned in “The Secret Life of Pets 2,” unless it is that we should not let fear or worry consume us. Fear is a common thread through the storylines, and each character must face his or her fears head on. Characters seem able to do this by sheer strength of will, or by following role models, or by simply choosing to do the right thing. One character says something like this, “The first step in not being afraid is acting like you’re not afraid.” If only it were that easy for people who live in fear and worry!
We are told in the Bible that we are not to worry, and that by worrying we can not add anything to our lives. But we are not told just to act unafraid, or to just plunge forward anyway by our own strength of will. We are told many times in the Scriptures to place our trust in God, instead of in ourselves and what we can do.
When we read the Bible and see how God has cared for His people, we should take heart that the same God which helped those individuals is there to help and strengthen us as well. The same God who spoke of courage in Joshua 1:9 is the same God there for us today. The same God whose rod and staff comforted David in Psalm 23 is there to comfort us. The same God who inspired Paul to write the words of 2 Timothy 1:7 is the same God who gives those who trust in Him not a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power and of love and of a sound mind.
But the way to have true courage is not mentioned in “The Secret Life of Pets 2,” and I did not expect it to be. Instead we are given a worldly solution to the problem of anxiety and fear. Even this lesson is overshadowed by chase scenes and silly situations, then packaged up and served to families in a film that is entertaining at times but not incredibly memorable.
There is enough cartoon violence and perilous imagery that some parents with very young or sensitive children may wish to avoid seeing this installment. I know that I would not want a young child in my care to repeat the crude quote “Pickles is pissed!”, or to see the implied abuse of an animal by a sinister looking man over and over again.
If your family found the first “…Secret Life of Pets” acceptable and enjoyable, you will probably be fine with this one, since it is mostly an improvement and does have some truly funny moments and sweet elements. I appreciate the step forward, but I wish there had been a couple things toned down, some things completely left out, and a little more attention to writing, so it could have met its full potential as a fun family movie.
I was never a big fan of the first one, and although I did enjoy this one much more, I must recommend some caution for the youngest viewers.
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.