The allure of the first Secret Life of Pets, a 2016 surprise hit for the animation studio Illumination, known primarily for their Despicable Me series and for releasing those annoying minions to the world, were the gags about what our pets did when we weren't home. The ideas behind how dogs, cats, and birds acted when we were gone, ranging from the appropriately cartoonish to clever in a grounded way, was what made the experience interesting and fun on its own. The Toy Story 1 rip-off overarching narrative about two dogs who initially hate each other having to work together in order to find their way back home was used merely as an excuse to pad the runtime to a feature.
The sequel, The Secret Life of Pets 2, seems to have been aware of this, so what we get here is a series of vignettes that center on the various characters from the first film, with the addition of some new characters like the fearless dog Daisy voiced by Tiffany Haddish. It's basically an anthology made up of a number of short films, intercut instead of presented episodically. Only during the forced third act climax do the stories interject, and even then the ending fizzles because the artificiality of bringing these shorts together sticks out.
The most basic "come to terms with your fears" family movie plot comes in the form of the first film's protagonist Max (Voiced by Patton Oswalt instead of Louis C.K. this time for obvious reasons) worrying about his owner's toddler getting hurt during a vacation at a farm. In comes the obligatory parental figure in the form of the gruff sheepdog Rooster (Harrison Ford, who sounds asleep at the mic), who will eventually teach Max the importance of letting children learn for themselves. It's a fairly predictable and by-the-numbers story for the genre.
Snowball (Kevin Hart), the psychotic bunny from the first film, has learned to mellow out a little bit as he's been domesticated recently, but he also holds delusions of grandeur as he fantasizes about being a superhero. That's where Daisy comes in, because every movie with Kevin Hart is nowadays contractually obligated to include Tiffany Haddish, and asks Snowball's help in rescuing a poor tiger cub from the clutches of an evil, i.e. Eastern European stereotype, circus owner (Nick Kroll). This is the story with the most action and adventure elements, and the chemistry between Hart and Haddish keeps us afloat.
The funniest plot, and the one that's worth a quick rental of the whole movie, involves Gidget (Jenny Slate), who has a crush on Max and is for some reason consistently friendzoned by him, trying to reclaim Max's favorite toy from an entire community of surly cats living with the cartoon embodiment of an old cat lady. There are a lot of great jokes here about the aloofness and disinterest of cats, as Gidget goes through extensive training about how to act like a cat, i.e. an unapologetic a-hole, so she can infiltrate the felines and grab Max's toy. A gag about the eponymous laser pointer, a cat's source of equal fear and awe, is the best moment in the film.
Illumination once again provides a universally bright and colorful look that harkens back to old Disney cartoons. The 1080p transfer captures that look perfectly with a bright and detailed presentation. I didn't see any video noticeable video noise, not even minor aliasing.
The Dolby Atmos track keeps busy with a heavy inclusion of all the surround tracks during action heavy sequences, and the affable score pans around the channels to give us an immersive experience. The dialogue from the center channels is clear and vibrant.
Super Gidget: A very cute short about Gidget's own superhero fantasies.
Minion Scouts: If you can't stand the minions the way I can't, skip this short. Otherwise, it's a Minions movie, so it's exactly what you'd expect.
The Making of the Mini-movies: A five-minute featurette about the two shorts.
Deleted Scenes: 2 minutes of very short segments.
A Tapestry of Tail: A 7-minute EPK that covers the overall production.
How to Draw: This is very cute and informative for the little ones. A quick lesson on drawing the characters.
Frame by Frame: Another sweet lesson on animation, this time about creating flipbooks as the first steps of the art form.
Character Pods: 16 minutes worth of tiny interviews where the voice actors discuss their characters.
My Buddy and Me: Basically an excuse to have the actors play with cuddly animals.
The Further Adventures of Captain Snowball: An interactive motion comic that tells an amusing Captain Snowball story.
Pets with Jobs: I wish this was longer than 7 minutes. It's a short documentary about how pets can help people in real world situations. Watch the Netflix documentary series Dogs for a more complete experience on this.
A Party Fit for a Pet: This lesson on how to throw a party for pets is sweet in theory, but parents should be warned that it might be chaos in practice.
Relax the Cat: An appropriately silly lesson from the voice actors on how to massage your pet.
Puppy Training School: Kevin Hart fools around with some unruly puppies in this quick comedy bit.
Production Pets: A series pictures showing pets in Illumination offices.
Pat's Yule Log: This is absolutely pointless. The pets from the movie walk back and forth the screen.
Lyric Videos: For "Panda" and "It's Gonna Be a Lovely Day"
With enough within the various short stories to keep the little ones entertained, as well as a bevy of fun extras, The Secret Life of Pets 2 isn't revolutionary by any means, but could work as a quick rental.