The first Secret Life… film was a cute, prettily designed comedy about what animals get up to when their owners are out. It was a good set-up, mined for a lot of strong visual gags, but it was a joke that stretched its potential even over 90 minutes. The inevitable sequel – the first made over $875 million worldwide – scrabbles around a bit to find something new to explore.
It opts for a bit of a hotchpotch structure, jumbling together a few stories that are individually fun, even if they don’t knit together very cleanly. Max, the highly strung Jack Russell (now voiced by Patton Oswalt instead of Louis C.K.) is stressed by the arrival of a human baby in his family. A holiday to a farm makes him panic constantly about the child’s safety, but he’s given some lessons in letting go by a gruff old hound (Harrison Ford, surprisingly making his animation debut). Back at home, Gidget (Jenny Slate) has lost Max’s favourite toy and has to, for complicated reasons, learn to pass as a cat to retrieve it. In a completely out of nowhere extra plot, hyperactive bunny Snowball (Kevin Hart) gets pulled into a mission to save a snow tiger cub.
The animation is once again very appealing — fuzzy and cheery and springy in a way that matches the lightness of the movie. It’s stuffed full of characters — Tiffany Haddish is added as a fearless Shih Tzu; an adorable little exposition-spouting creature — that are all pretty broad but very energetically played. Just like the first film, there’s not a lot to make it memorable nor to mark it out in the crowded animated comedy genre, but it’s very easy to like. A finale that tries to beef up the film into an action movie doesn’t entirely suit it. It’s at its best when it’s sweet and silly and just blundering about being adorable.