You definitely need to know the world of The Secret Life of Pets — one of the best animated features of the decade — before you see the sequel. It’s like one of those “very special” sitcom episodes (e.g. “Modern Family” goes to Australia) — a fun trip with beloved characters that only makes sense if you know what they’ve already been through.
The central story, one of three parallel tracks, takes Max, the urban Jack Russell terrier (now voiced by Patton Oswald, replacing Louis CK), out to a farm with his New York family, including giant furry mutt Duke (Eric Stonestreet). The other two plot lines remain in the city, one an action tale involving the rescue of a white tiger from a sadistic circus owner, the other a comic bit setting up the canine supporting cast to pose as felines for a stealth invasion of a cat lady’s apartment.
The first movie’s charming premise — revealing what pets do while their owners are at work — is largely discarded, but there are flashes of similar brilliance. The smartest is the introduction of farm dog Rooster, voiced by a perfectly gruff Harrison Ford. His adventure with Max to save a lost sheep is one of the movie’s most gripping sequences (and is best enjoyed with 3D glasses).
The episodic structure results in uneven storytelling, but the animation and voice cast remain top-notch. The screenplay, by the original film’s writer, is endearing and consistently funny, and at 86 minutes, the movie is a perfect choice for family viewing, jampacked with cute animals and funny gags. But unless the Illumination brain trust can take this mini-franchise back to the realm of its original premise, maybe this should be our last visit with Max and friends.
Starts June 7