All dogs are good dogs. Oh, sure, yours might poop in a shoe from time to time, or snatch a snack from the counter. But overall, the human race would be a lot better if we all strove — doggedly — to be a little more, er, doggish. “The Secret Life of Pets 2,” an animated film about canines (and other domesticated critters), doesn’t quite live up to the standard set by real-world pooches. Call it a pretty good dog.
Picking up where the original 2016 film left off, this sequel centers on a terrier named Max (Patton Oswalt, doing replacement voice duty after Louis C.K. was dropped from the franchise in the wake of sexual misconduct accusations). Max is still living happily in New York City with his owner, Katie (Ellie Kemper), and his lummox of a best friend Duke (Eric Stonestreet). But then suddenly, in a brief montage, we see everything change: Katie meets a guy, gets married and has a baby, none of which Max likes. Eventually the baby becomes a toddler, and he and the dogs begin to get along so well that Max feels he must protect the child from everything. The best way to do that is to not let him do anything.
Meanwhile, in another apartment, Snowball the rabbit (Kevin Hart) has come to think of himself as a superhero, thanks to the costume that his owner dresses him in. Gidget (Jenny Slate), a pampered puffball of a Pomeranian, still has a crush on Max.
The main story, such as it is, kicks in when Max and his family take a trip to the country. That’s where Max meets Rooster (Harrison Ford), a cattle dog who actually works for a living and who disdains Max — as much for his life of leisure as his nervous nature. Additional story lines focus on a favorite toy of Max’s that goes missing while he’s away and an attempt by Snowball and his new Shih Tzu pal, Daisy (Tiffany Haddish), to rescue an abused circus tiger from his evil owner (Nick Kroll). We know the circus owner is evil because he dresses in black and has a Russian accent.
See the problem here? There are so many subplots, it’s like herding cats.
The animation style of “Pets 2” is similar to that of the first film — the Manhattan skyline is rendered in softly bright and busy colors — but also more haphazard. Daisy’s hair looks so silky that you’ll want to stroke it and tell her that she’s a good girl (yes she is). And Gidget looks like a cotton ball with legs, But the rest of the pets aren’t rendered with such detail. Their eyes all have a weird glassiness, and their mouths appear disconnected from their faces.
Oswalt’s voice work is, as in “Ratatouille” and other animated projects, outstanding. Same with Slate and Haddish, whose characters are good enough to warrant a spinoff. Ford may not have quite their skill, but he conveys Rooster’s gruff irritation in a way that fits the character.
Most of the movie’s jokes land solidly, which, ironically, only serves to highlight the other weaknesses of the film. “Pets 2” feels less like a compelling, full-length feature than like three decent short films, each of which is only vaguely related to the other, and all of which exist merely to get from one joke to the next. Expecting us to wait around for another cats-are-jerks moment isn’t the best way to engage with an audience, no matter how valid that point may be.
Despite its humor — and despite some genuinely aww-inspiring moments — “The Secret Life of Pets 2” is kind of forgettable. Rooster sums it up best with this no-nonsense assessment: “Some stuff happened. Now it’s over.”
PG. At area theaters. Contains some action and rude humor. 86 minutes.