THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS 2 is one of those rare phenomena --- a sequel that is actually better than the original! I remember being so psyched to see THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS and then being so disappointed after the screening. Perhaps it can be attributed to the fact that THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS 2 has only one writer, Brian Lynch, who did collaborate on the original. It’s definitely a better story, way funnier, and it incorporates some great life lessons for all --- not just children.

Max, a Jack Russell terrier (now voiced by Patton Oswald – Louis C.K. was replaced), and Duke, a large, brown shaggy mix (voiced by Eric Stonestreet) are inundated with life-altering events when their owner, Katie (voiced by Ellie Kemper) meets and marries Chuck (voiced by Pete Holmes), then has a baby boy they name Liam. Max, who was never fond of children, now has one of his own and he is a changed dog. He and Duke --- Max especially --- are totally enamored and constantly watching out for the little guy.

A road trip is planned --- Duke is so excited to be riding in a car --- from New York City to an uncle’s farm in the country. Everything is an adjustment for these two, including all of the animals --- and particularly the Welsh Sheepdog named Rooster (voiced by Harrison Ford). Max and Duke are even forced to sleep outside.

Before they depart, Max tasks Gidget, a white Pomeranian (voiced by Jenny Slate) with taking care of his favorite squeaky toy. Unfortunately for Gidget, the toy bounces down the fire escape and into an apartment teeming with cats and one little old lady. To retrieve the toy, Gidget enlists the aid of Chloe, the obese grey tabby (voiced by Lake Bell), to teach her how to act like a cat. It’s hilarious!

And Snowball, a white rabbit (voiced by Kevin Hart), is commandeered into action by Daisy, a Shih Tzu (voiced by Tiffany Haddish), who is on a mission to free a white tiger named Hu, being held captive by a mean and abusive circus owner, Sergei (voiced by Nick Kroll). Daisy and Snowball may be little, but they are diabolical in their efforts --- especially Daisy. She’s a hoot!

There is a lot going on in THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS 2. And it’s all good. The love Max and Duke have for Liam --- and he, in turn, for them --- is positively endearing. And the lessons Max learns from Rooster are important for all of us, particularly the one about fear. When a fence railing accidentally gets knocked down and the sheep get loose, Rooster strongly encourages Max to face his fear and rescue Cotton, a lamb who is stuck in a tree high above a ravine, happily eating apples. It’s a terrific scene and surprisingly tense.

Chris Renaud, who co-directed the first film, does an amazing job with the cast and crew. The production designs by Eric Guillon, art direction by Colin Stimpson and sound track by Alexandre Desplats are exceptional, along with the amazing animation. The flowers blowing in the fields and the pebbles sliding down the cliff are so real you truly feel like you can reach out and touch them.

But it is the cast and screenplay that makes this movie so special. Oswalt, Haddish, Ford, Kroll and Holmes are all new to this story, and Haddish and Ford stand out. Ford’s voice lends such credence to the stately, wise farm dog who has weathered many life experiences. And Haddish is an absolute scream as the bossy, bold Shih Tzu who takes a back seat to no one.

THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS 2 is so much fun for the entire family. Moms and dads, grandmas and grandpas, aunts and uncles --- heck anyone --- will enjoy this as much as the kids. It’s a great way to kick off the summer!


Opinion: See It Now!