Only-pup Max learned to share his space in the first film, but how will he go with another new personal space invader in The Secret Life of Pets 2?

Yes, Max and big ol’ Duke are getting along gangbusters, but then things – as they often do – change. Their owner, Katie, meets a guy quite literally by accident, they get married and, possibly also by accident, welcome a baby boy into their lives. The problem? Max is resolutely anti-kid… until young Liam completely wins him over.

A change soon comes over Max, for allotting himself the role of Liam’s sworn protector, he realises just how many threats to the safety of an inquisitive child there are in the world. He develops a nervous tic, and is prescribed with a cone to prevent him from scratching. Maybe a trip to the farm – in a car!!! – may help him chill out?

Meanwhile, another sworn protector, this time of New York City, is Snowball – or Captain Snowball as he’s now calling himself. The plucky bunny’s superheroic reputation has (somehow) spread, as a new pup to the hood – Daisy – comes calling for him, needing his help in rescuing a white tiger that’s being treated cruelly by a circus. Can the role-playing fluff ball actually live up to that rep?

Then there’s Max’s would-be wifey Gidget. She’s entrusted with looking after designated favourite toy Busy Bee while her beau is away. She takes this duty extremely seriously, and when it inadvertently lands in a cat lady’s apartment we learn just how seriously…

These three distinct story threads keep every character busy, and all converge neatly into one slickly wrapped-up package before the credits (complete with don’t-miss-it gangsta rap) roll. By this time we’ve seen several acts of heroism, experienced thrills and adventure (some that will feel a tad familiar to those who have seen the wonderful Paddington 2), and have also met a no-nonsense farm dog in Rooster (voiced by Harrison Ford in his first animated role), who has the odd truth to impart to young Max.

The Secret Life of Pets 2

While the first TSLOP skated very close to the plot of the first Toy Story, The Secret Life of Pets 2 finds more of its own voice. The splitting of the story works to give more screentime to all the favourite characters, and while it may seem episodic – because it essentially is – each strand has a greater purpose.

What gets us about these flicks is Illumination’s snappy ability to gambol from bigger issues – dealing with change, finding one’s place in the world etc – to bang-on visual humour to capturing the very essence of why we love our pets so much. Everything from the perfectly emulated IDGAF mannerisms of uber-cat Chloe to the sheer, unbridled excitement of the doggy element when they find out that they’re to travel by car never fails to delight. Oh, and when Gidget catches the dot…

At the weekend, we experienced The Secret Life of Pets 2 in a special kids cinema preview screening where a roomful of tykes flipped from feral before, to transfixed during, to feral again at intermission and on to transfixed again for the final half. It just nailed it home for us, that Pixar may get all the plaudits, but Illumination really are at the top of the animation game when it comes to crafting movies that deftly hold that balance between kid and adult appeal.

star-4In cinemas: June 20, 2019
Starring: The voices of Patton Oswalt, Eric Stonestreet, Kevin Hart
Directed by: Chris Renaud, Jonathan del Val