At best, you probably recall 2016’s The Secret Life Of Pets as being ‘fine’ and you feel rather apathetic about it. There’s also a good chance, however, that you found it to be rather disappointing. When the first trailer started popping up in cinemas it looked brilliant, with various pets and their random habits – a proper character study of animal behaviour! Anticipation built, then the film was released. After the opening sequence, which was a slightly extended version of the trailer, the film then became indistinct from any other animal-based animation. Lacking in the depth we’ve come to expect in this Golden Age of Animation (see Pixar, Studio Ghibli, Laika, Cartoon Salon and Aardman) the film sort of disappeared, accruing a small fan base of young fans. Having a sequel seemed sort of needless.
Any such fears or doubts subside within minutes of watching this follow-up. The script is tighter, funnier and more original. It feels like a top tier Illumination movie as opposed to a Disney knock-off. That’s courtesy of a slight shift in focus and structure that truly pays off. Max (Patton Oswalt) is still our main character, but the screen time is divided up into essentially three co-current storylines. There’s Max becoming a quasi-parent after his owner gets married and has a baby. Gidget (Jenny Slade) has to find a way to pass as a cat. Snowball (Kevin Hart) teams up with Daisy (Tiffany Haddish) to help save a tiger held in captivity.
There’s a great balance between all three, we hop between them with just the right amount of frequency. This allows for further development of the ensemble, plus an opportunity for Illumination to show off what they’re good at. Despicable Me won the adoration of many due to the amount of heart it had, how tenderly it told the story of a an unconventional family being formed whilst also capturing the highs and lows of parenthood.
That definitely plays a part to proceedings here, particularly with Max’s story-line. He’s quickly devoted to his young charge, but at great expense to his wellbeing – in a way that will surely hit home for any parent’s in the audience. It could easily be seen as a depiction of mental health, just the right amount for the young folk in the audience to grasp.
It’s also supremely funny. The humour of the first film’s trailer remains throughout, particularly in the depiction of animal behaviours. Instead of becoming an occasional addition to proceedings, it regularly becomes the film’s focus – in a way that needs to be seen and enjoyed rather being spoiled here!
What can be said, though, is that this is a very sweet and very funny animation that will charm audiences of all ages. A huge surprise but a joyous one.
The Secret Life of Pets 2 is in UK cinemas from Friday 24th May.