This is the sequel to a very popular 2016 children’s movie, and it sold less than half as many tickets as the first one did in its first weekend. Given the quality of the piece, that’s appropriate.
The premise behind both films is that pets have more active lives than their owners know. In the first iteration, sometimes called SLOP, a neighborhood cast of dogs, cats and birds has wacky adventures and a lot of fun.
This one tries too hard and goes too far. It opens nicely with the same terrier, Max, who shares an apartment with a big shambling dog named Duke and their owner, Katy. In short order, Katy marries and with her husband brings a new baby, Liam, into the home.
Max worries initially about being displaced by the baby, but over time he grows fond and ultimately protective of the little guy, rather as he adjusted to the introduction of Duke in the first movie.
Then the locus broadens. The family pays a visit to Katy’s uncle’s farm, where Max meets a hardworking farm dog named Rooster. By the time the visit ends, Rooster has taught Max some some alpha-dog behaviors that come in handy later.
Meanwhile back in the nabe, the cats and dogs are organizing to rescue a baby Siberian tiger from an evil circus master (because circus troupes always park their trucks near big apartment buildings in New York City.)
The circus master looks and dresses like the Wicked Witch in “The Wizard of Oz,” and he’s just as mean. He also directs a bunch of wolves that snarl and threaten the nice pets and the sweet, apparently toothless tiger.
(One question: Is it wise to make wolves, who are cousins of dogs after all, the bad guys in a movie that ennobles all its other animals? There are active efforts across the American West to restore the native wolf population, and naturalists are touchy these days.)
As in the first movie, a cute white bunny named Snowball is actually a mouthy tough guy. The big gray cat, Chloe, returns and teaches a Pomeranian named Gidget how to act like a proper feline. These are pleasant diversions from the larger events in the over-ambitious script.
In the climactic scene, Max “channels his inner Rooster,” and the pets prevail. But you knew that.
Children probably will enjoy this film, but it isn’t nearly as much fun as the first one.
The Idiosyncratist is going to stop naming “actors” who “voice” animated characters. Yes, Harrison Ford spoke Rooster’s lines, but nobody would have guessed it if the studio hadn’t released his name. Similarly, the new Max voice, Patton Oswalt’s, seems pretty much like old voice, that of now-banished Louis C.K. And while the screenwriters may have written the Snowball part with Kevin Hart in mind, people don’t go to movies to hear Kevin Hart. These are nice side gigs for actors, but rarely additive to the overall effort.
One review of this film is a distinctive one on a website called The Wrap. The cranky critic’s point is that the movie is too damned heteronormative, which reminded The Id of early journalism days when The Id, too, knew everything. One of the satisfactions of adult life is letting go of the need to tell others what to think and believe.