By Mark Saldana

Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)

Considering that I liked (not loved) the first installment of this animated franchise, I actually approached this film with hopeful anticipation. My biggest gripe with the first movie is that it is basically a rip off of Toy Story, but applied to dogs, cats and other charming and funny pets. I certainly hoped that the filmmakers behind this sequel would take these dynamic and amusing characters and give them a more original story. Well, to say that the plots (yes, more than one) of Pets 2 are original would be to stretch the truth like silly putty. Still, to its credit, the filmmakers have actually made a somewhat dynamic sequel that offers some valuable lessons to children. It is also a highly entertaining and amusing movie for all ages to enjoy.

Following the events of the previous movie, Jack Russell Terrier Max (Patton Oswalt) and Newfoundland Duke (Eric Stonestreet) still live with the beloved owner Katie (Ellie Kemper) in a Manhattan apartment. However, before the dogs realize it, their lives are about to change rather quickly. Katie soon meets the love of her life, Chuck (Pete Holmes), whom she eventually marries. In what seems like no time at all, Katie and Chuck become parents, and their baby boy Liam (Henry Lynch) makes for a wonderful addition to the family.

Though Max struggles with these new developments at first, he manages to adjust and becomes quite enamored with Baby Liam. With this new-found love though, comes increased stress and anxiety. When the family takes a trip to visit a relative who lives on a farm, Max is able to receive some lessons in strength and courage from a veteran farm dog named Rooster (Harrison Ford). While Max has been away, he has trusted his favorite toy with neighboring dog Gidget (Jenny Slate) who clumsily manages to lose it to a house full of cats. Meanwhile the rabbit neighbor Snowball (Kevin Hart) gets to prove himself as a hero to a Shih Tzu named Daisy (Tiffany Haddish).

Now I know that my synopsis makes the film seem overstuffed and messy, but that’s probably my clumsy way of describing the three plots of the film. The movie does have much going on in it, but writer Brian Lynch and director Chris Renaud manage to make the movie flow rather smoothly, transitioning through the three stories with ease. Each story involves a character summoning up the courage to face challenges and fears to do what is right. And much like the first installment, there is plenty of hilarious and enjoyable humor that is well written and performed.

Both the returning voice talents as well as the new ones all offer excellent work here. As Max, Patton Oswalt replaces Louis C.K. (who has been pretty much black balled for bad behavior) and brings a wonderful energy and a lovable spirit to the character. Reprising their roles from the first installment are Jenny Slate, Eric Stonestreet, Kevin Hart, Lake Bell, Dana Carvey, Hannibal Buress, and Ellie Kemper. All of whom offer outstanding voice work with their great comic stylings. New voices include Tiffany Haddish, Harrison Ford, and Nick Kroll, These talented performers make some wonderful contributions to the movie.

So it gives me great pleasure that The Secret Life of Pets 2 is actually a better movie than the first installment. It is a delightfully rare treat when filmmakers manage to make a stronger sequel by utilizing what works well in the previous one and building something special with it. We will have to see if Ilumination Entertainment has another movie in them, but and time and money will tell eventually.

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