Let’s get my bias out of the way immediately: I am a cat person, and have been irked by animated movies that depict cats as sinister and automatically inferior to dogs. That’s not the only reason I dislike “The Secret Life of Pets 2,” though it’s a good place to start.
There actually is a scene that shows dogs as superior to cats. It comes when the pampered Gidget (voiced by Jenny Slate) disguises herself as a cat to infiltrate an apartment filled with felines. Gidget shows herself the mistress of the cat world by conquering the cats’ obsession: The laser pointer.
That sequence, one of three plots intertwined in this labored sequel to the 2016 cartoon by the “Despicable Me” squad, could have been a nicely self-contained 11 minutes in an animated TV series — something “The Secret Life of Pets” seems destined to become. TV would be a better fit for these characters, one that doesn’t raise the high expectations of a theatrical feature.
The main plot focuses, as the first movie’s did, on Max, a neurotic Jack Russell Terrier. Where in the first movie Max (now voiced by Patton Oswalt, replacing the disgraced Louis C.K.) fretted over the arrival of a new dog, the Newfoundland Duke (voiced by Eric Stonestreet). This time, Max’s singleton owner Katie (voiced by Ellie Kemper) has found a guy, Chuck (voiced by Pete Holmes), and together they have a baby boy, Liam.
Max doesn’t object to Liam’s arrival, instead becoming fiercely protective of his new little person. So protective, in fact, that Max becomes neurotic about every perceived danger on the New York streets. Katie even takes Max to the vet, where he is fitted with a cone so he can’t scratch his face anymore.
Soon after, the whole family, along with Max and Duke, take a trip to an uncle’s farm. There, Max finds new and different things to be afraid of, including streams, cows and chickens. He also finds an old farm dog, Rooster (voiced by Harrison Ford), who imparts gruff wisdom about taking life as it happens and not to live in fear.
How Max’s hero journey connects with Gidget’s domination over cat-kind, or the psychotic rabbit Snowball (voiced by Kevin Hart) indulging his inner superhero, is one of the unsolved mysteries of Brian Lynch’s screenplay. Chris Renaud’s direction, as with the first “Secret Life,” is candy-colored and fast-moving, perfect for the series’ very young audiences. It’s chaotic and intermittently humorous, but even at 86 minutes feels padded.
“The Secret Life of Pets 2”
Opens Friday, June 7, in theaters everywhere. Rated PG for some action and rude humor. Running time: 86 minutes.