“SECRET LIFE OF PETS 2” SERVES UP EXPECTED FAMILY FARE

SECRET LIFE OF PETS 2”

SERVES UP EXPECTED FAMILY FARE

A Film Review by Tim Riley

Remembering the story line of the original animation from three years ago may not immediately jump to mind, but that matters little for the sequel of a movie that struck an emotional chord with audiences who love household pets.

The appealing prospect of domesticated, for the most part, animals having a thought process and a plan of action when the humans are away at work or school is what once again drives “The Secret Life of Pets 2” into the amusing territory of anthropomorphic antics.

The structural weakness for this continuation of the saga of pets is running three disjointed storylines where the common thread shared by the main characters is that they live with their owners in the same New York apartment building.

Yet, this flaw of plot construction takes little away from the transitory enjoyment of the lovable animals charting their own course all the while adapting to the vagaries of the human condition.

Having previously been subjected to adapting to the oversized mutt Duke (Eric Stonestreet) entering the picture in the first film, the terrier Max (voiced by Patton Oswalt) now has to cope with a more drastic change.

Max’s owner Katie (Ellie Kemper) marries the big lug Chuck (Pete Holmes) and soon thereafter along comes baby Liam, who quickly becomes a handful during the toddler stage.

Overly protective, Max becomes a nervous wreck following the kid around the apartment and while Duke is far less neurotic, they both adapt their canine reputation of a man’s best friend to be watchful guardians.

One thread of the storyline is that Max and Duke join a family vacation trip to a relative’s farm where country life is unsettling to Max who is soon prodded by crusty ranch canine Rooster (Harrison Ford) to ditch his neuroses and discover his inner courage.

Rooster is the most welcome new addition to the lineup of animals. Harrison Ford’s steady, confident and gravel voice makes Rooster a formidable character, and all the more so when he pulls off the cowboy image by wearing a cool neckerchief.

Back in the city, Max has entrusted his favorite yellow squeeze toy called Busy Bee in the care of fluffy, perky Gidget the Pomeranian (Jenny Slate) when he leaves for the trip to the countryside.

In short order, the pampered Gidget loses the toy as it bounces down the outside fire escape steps into the apartment of an old lady who harbors so many feral cats that it’s a surprise that animal control has not taken notice of the hoarding.

Faced with the obstacle of being a dog trying to retrieved the toy, Gidget enlists the help of slothful, spoiled Chloe (Lake Bell), a rotund fluffy feline who would rather cough up fur balls on its sleeping owner that do anything relatively useful.

Nevertheless, facing a tough situation to infiltrate a hostile environment, Gidget takes lessons from Chloe on being more catlike in presence and attitude, which is partly achieved by wearing headgear to simulate feline features.

On another front, Snowball (Kevin Hart) is an energized rabbit who fervently believes that he’s a superhero, because, well, he dresses like one and seeks opportunities to rescue other animals in distress.

This is where Daisy (Tiffany Haddish), a brave Shih Tzu, enters the picture, putting Snowball to the test of living up to his heroic exploits that are mostly the fabrication of his hyperactive imagination.

Daisy has encountered a white tiger cub that is being held captive by cruel circus owner Sergei (Nick Kroll), appropriately dressed in black, speaking with a sinister Russian accent, and only missing a dark mustache to twirl.

This story arc has the dynamic duo of Snowball and Daisy freeing the tiger from its cage and then having to elude Sergei’s henchmen and his vicious pack of nasty wolves and a menacing monkey.

While arguably there may be nothing extra special about the film’s animation, physical settings and disconnected storylines, “The Secret Life of Pets 2” delivers the expected goods for family entertainment geared to a younger audience.

Admittedly, the animal characters interact very well with plenty of funny lines. Seeing the gruff Rooster tutor the anxious Max in the ways of life outside the comfort zone of dwelling in the safe space of an apartment is one of the delightful highlights.

Cat lovers are sure to identify with the lackadaisical, indifferent attitude of self-centered Chloe’s grasp of reality, while dog owners have a wide choice of canine companions that are relatable on different scales.

The bottom line is that those who enjoyed the first round in “The Secret Life of Pets,” a worldwide blockbuster, are really the target audience for a sequel that brings some new dimensions to the budding franchise.

Equally important, at the start of summer, is the need for films that can be enjoyed by children. “Pets 2” fits the bill, because some upcoming films like the gritty action of “Shaft” and the horror tale of “Child’s Play” are definitely not PG-rated fare.