Sad to say, the bloom is off the rose. The first The Secret Life of Pets in 2016 was an animated fluff-ball that hit on a fresh premise: What do our pets do when we close the door and leave them behind? The sequel covers pretty much the same territory. The big difference being that the critters leave New York City for a trip to the farm. Their instinct for mischief stays the same, yet you feel the pall of repetition. Not enough to completely spoil the party, but you get the idea.
Our star is still the intrepid Max, the Jack Russell terrier voiced with just the right mix of humor and neurosis by Patton Oswalt. Hold on. Didn’t Louis C.K. do the voice of Max in the original? He did. But accusations of sexual misconduct, against Louis not Max, can get a star sidelined in a family-friendly film. Relax. No matter who’s doing the talking for him, Max looks the same. And he’s a cutie.
Max is also traumatized. Last time he had to deal with his owner Katie (Ellie Kemper) bringing home shaggy mutt Duke (Eric Stonestreet) to share their digs. Now Katie has gotten married and there’s a baby in the house. His name is Liam and trouble follows him everywhere. Max is a nervous wreck trying to protect the toddler. When Max can’t stop scratching himself raw with anxiety, the vet prescribes a protective cone to wear around his neck. Good luck with that. The farm is a potential disaster area of bugs, rocks and a killer turkey for Max and the baby. Luckily, Max runs into Rooster, a seen-it-all herding dog voiced by a gruffly hilarious Harrison Ford who knocks off Max’s cone and gives him lessons on how to be one with nature.
Rooster’s advice doesn’t always work. Maybe that’s why co-directors Chris Renaud and Jonathan del Val and returning screenwriter Brian Lynch keep cutting back to the gang back in Manhattan. Max is counting on his Pomeranian pal Gidget (Jenny Slate) to keep an eye on his beloved squeaky toy, Busy Bee. Gidget being Gidget, Busy Bee is soon among the missing. Cue a search party of Gidget, kitty Chloe (Lake Bell), pug-faced Mel (Bobby Moynihan) and demented dachshund Buddy (Hannibal Buress) to retrieve Busy Bee.
There’s more plot. Much more. Fan favorite Kevin Hart is back voicing Snowball, the frenetic bunny who fancies himself a superhero. If someone needs saving — in this case a white tiger being chased by a fiendish circus owner (Nick Kroll) — it’s Captain Snowball to the rescue with a little help from Shih Tzu Daisy, barked with attitude to spare by Hart’s Night School costar Tiffany Haddish.
Where is Max in all this? Lost in the shuffle as the filmmakers keep tossing distractions at us like comic buckshot to disguise the fact that The Secret Lives of Pets 2 is running in circles without actually going anywhere. You want to pet the movie like a good dog for putting on an energetic show. But in the end it’s nothing to wag your tail about.