The Secret Life of Pets 2 (2019)
It's PG for being slightly crass and, for some reason, perilous action sequences. There's some pretty base humor, but that's pretty typical of the Illumination folks. Really, it's because there's some danger for some of the characters throughout the story. Nothing is all that scary, so please keep this in mind. But more sensitive kids might have a hard time with this one. It's mostly fine. PG.
DIRECTORS: Chris Renaud and Jonathan Del Var
The problem when swapping choices for family movie night is that, sometimes, Dad hasn't seen the first entry in the series. Sometimes, Dad stayed home when the grandparents took the kids to see the first movie. I wouldn't minded to see the first movie. But I think I can probably state with some degree of confidence that I probably wouldn't have needed to see the first movie. I know that Louis C.K. basically can't voice a children's film anymore and that Patton Oswalt took over from him. It kind of feels like this is a new character, but I can't really attest to that. I'm assuming the last movie ended with Max's owner having a kid that he bonded with. Maybe it was about coming to terms that Max wouldn't be the most important thing in the family's life? Regardless, I think I got the gist. I just feel dirty watching a sequel without having seen the first movie. Everyone I know said it was skippable.
A good writer would build to the biggest point. But I write these things every day. It's exhausting planning these things when it comes to building to a crescendo. So I want to talk about the oddest choice for this movie / the fact that filmmakers are really stuck to a formula. The Secret Life of Pets movies don't need real villains. The conceit behind these movies is that pets lead full lives outside of the view of their owners. It's a fun concept. Really, it's another Toy Story concept. Now, I don't know why I have never brought this up with up with stuff like Toy Story 4, but I'm going to really apply it to The Secret Life of Pets 2. Max has a really honest and vulnerable problem. I mean, I'm going to talk about the toxic masculinity of Rooster sometime through here, but a villain and the external conflict should somehow directly tie to the internal conflict of the story. If I had to sit down with the directors right now, I know how they would answer this: Max was afraid to do anything before, but the villain shakes him out of his little world into a much bigger world. The problem I have with that is that is a trait of "all villains". The villain isn't personal to Max or Snowball. Oddly enough, he doesn't really belong in any version of a movie about talking animals. He's almost in his own story that doesn't match.
Listen, Kevin Hart is hilarious. I learned this from Jumanji: The Next Level. The man might be a genius and I'm the last person to discover that. But they wanted to give Snowball some things to do that would break the confinements of the conceit. That's a real problem because Snowball learns nothing over the course of the story. Snowball's central drive to the story is to become a superhero. However, his major problem getting in the way of that goal is his own ego. It's weird how that conflict really works for a story like The Secret Life of Pets. Snowball is so obsessed with becoming a famous superhero that he kind of acts like a jerk to the other pets. Instead of having Snowball coming to the realization that removing his ego from the equation means that he could do some real good, they put Snowball into a comic book level action story. Snowball fights Sergei, which is a pretty lazy voice for Nick Kroll by this point, which doesn't really teach Snowball anything. It actually is a conceit breaking story because it is about how human-like animals are when we aren't looking at them.
Having a villain is possibly the worst thing that this movie could have done. It really tears at the idea that humans have no idea what animals are doing. Over the course of the film, Snowball actually frees a circus tiger. The movie even jokes with the idea that Snowball has no idea what to do with this giant tiger. But the movie doesn't really do a good job even responding to that. It writes off the idea that an old lady wouldn't notice the difference between a billion cats and a tiger. But that tiger wrecks things everywhere he goes. That joke undoes a lot of the other jokes. You know, the ones where human explain away absolutely insane behaviors? Then, it brings Max into that storyline? There's a scene where Max is fighting wolves on a train and he uncouples train cars to distance himself from the scary wolves. Why is this scene in here? The animals have to show that they are smarter than Sergei to take him down. It's breaking the rules established by the premise of the film. It's called The Secret Life of Pets. I know this seems nitpicky, but I have to write a lot of words about this movie and it's the thing that stuck in my craw.
I said that I would be taking about Rooster and toxic masculinity. I really don't like the story and what it is trying to say about Max and his issues. Max actually seems to be having some degree of a mental psychosis. He's got a level of anxiety that is causing him to chew on his own body, causing him physical harm. It's an excuse to have Max wear a cone for a chunk of the film, which I guess is meant to be funny? But when he meets Rooster, he gains an understanding of what it means to be a dog. A dog is supposed to be brave and self-sufficient. A dog is meant to chase away darkness and provide for a family.
I think we see where I'm going with this? Rooster is a boomer. You cast Harrison Ford as this standoffish, aggressively judgmental dog who is unapproachable. Good job. You got the most on-the-nose casting out of anyone. Max seems to have real anxiety brought about by not knowing what is around him. It's so intense that it is physically manifesting. The message of Rooster's conditioning of Max is "Anxiety isn't real. Suck it up." That's a problematic story to tell kids, right? I know that the message is even more for parents, but that somehow might just make it worse. Max is concerned for his kid. Max sees himself as a parent for the kid. He's adapting to the constant changes going on around him. Instead of telling him that he's wrong for worrying, what if he got honest help? Rooster is part of the old guard, that was bred to not feel anything. Anxiety was for weak women and men were meant to be aggressive. I thought we were past this kind of storytelling? It seems like a really regressive story to tell.
I have to admit: I had little desire to watch this movie. My kids picked this movie and then I mentally checked out. It's a bad thing to admit, but it is true. I didn't want to watch a sequel to a movie that I heard wasn't that good. I went into it trying not to have fun and I fulfilled that prophecy. It's not necessarily the fault of the movie. I just find it bizarre that Patton Oswalt is cool with minimizing mental illness. Again, I'm also reading pretty deep. Also, does Patton hate Louis C.K. now? I have no idea, but it's interesting to read complex relationships based on projects that people are attached to. I'm sure this movie is better than I'm giving it credit for. Regardless, meh.
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