The Secret Life of Pets 2

Now that Katie’s (voice of Ellie Kemper) dog Max (voice of Patton Oswalt, replacing Louis C.K.) has accepted her rescue mutt Duke (voice of Eric Stonestreet), he’s got a new challenge to overcome when she marries Chuck (voice of Pete Holmes) and has baby Liam. Max cannot abide children, but becomes so overprotective of HIS Liam, he ends up in a veterinary cone for anxious scratching. When the family goes to Chuck’s uncle’s farm on vacation, Max leaves his beloved Busy Bee squeaky toy in the care of Pomeranian Gidget (voice of Jenny Slate), who has to team up with overfed cat Chloe (voice of Lake Bell) to retrieve it when it falls into the window of an old cat lady. Meanwhile bunny Snowball (voice of Kevin Hart) dons the super hero pajamas he’s gotten from new owner Molly when Shih Tzu Daisy (voice of Tiffany Hadish) comes looking for help to rescue a lion cub in the clutches of villainous circus trainer Sergei (voice of Nick Kroll) in “The Secret Life of Pets 2.”

Laura's Review: B-

While writer Brian Lynch repeats the same mistakes he made with the first movie - mainly going far afield of organic adventures like a lost toy or trip to the vet’s - this time around he only errs with one of his plot threads and it is, once again, the one that features the thoroughly obnoxious Snowball. Codirected by the original’s Chris Renaud and his animation director Jonathan del Val, the film has an unimaginative structure, merely cycling through its separate plot lines rather than making any attempt to connect them thematically, at least until they all converge in a rescue involving a train (oddly enough, the same climactic location of the date’s other wide release, “Dark Phoenix”). While pairing Hart with Tiffany Hadish must have sounded good on paper, her vocal performance doesn’t fit her character, and the villain of their piece looks like a cross between “Despicable Me’s” Gru and the Wicked Witch of the West. Much better is Max and Duke’s foray onto the farm, where Max is mentored by intimidating farm dog Rooster when he’s put to the test by sarcastic cows, a stampeding turkey and wandering sheep. The filmmakers get things so right when they introduce Liam (the film’s closing credits feature funny videos of real dogs interacting with young children) and give us a dog’s-eye-view of a vet’s waiting room, that it is a crashing disappointment when new character Daisy is introduced in an airplane’s cargo hold, a fantasyland where cats and dogs romp happily but one lone tiger cub cowers shackled in a cage. Max’s entrusting of squeaky Busy Bee with Gidget has her dreaming of marriage and the toy’s landing in an apartment that an old woman shares with tens of felines is inspired, as is Chloe’s catnip impairment when Gidget goes for help. But Max’s tutoring under Rooster is the film’s best story line, Harrison Ford’s first vocal role for an animated character note perfect, even a bit poignant. Unfortunately Duke is relegated to mostly silent sidekick. Basset hound Pops (voice of Dana Carvey) and guinea pig Norman (voice of director Reynaud) get rolled into Snowball’s adventure with dachshund Buddy (voice of Hannibal Buress) and pug Mel (voice of Bobby Moynihan) relegated to cameos. Max’s newfound courage gives him a Rin Tin Tin turn during the movie’s climax. Illumination’s sequel is a shade better than the original, but if this franchise is going to step up, they’ve got to lose Snowball. A rabbit rescuing a tiger cub with a Shih Tzu does not equate with Max and Gidget’s more realistic conundrums. Grade:

Robin's Review: DNS