It’s never a great sign when the biggest laughs a movie gets are during the end credits.
In the case of “The Secret Life of Pets 2,” animal-and-baby videos seemingly yanked straight from YouTube absolutely slayed my largely kid audience. The film itself — while not without its amusing “my pet does that, too” moments — barely manages to knit three minimal plotlines into an 80-minute feature. It has no real reason to exist, other than to be a passable option for parents whose children are too young to handle PG-13 fare and feels like it.
Sequel directors Chris Renaud and Jonathan de Val notably recast the Everydog lead, Max, originally voiced by Louis C.K. — who did a pretty good job, actually, before his #MeToo scandal. Patton Oswalt, the new Max, takes us through the unexpected arrival of a new baby in his family and a vacation to the countryside, where he meets a grumpy herding dog named Rooster (voiced by the excellently grumpy Harrison Ford).
Returning characters include Gidget (Jenny Slate), a fluffy lap dog with a crush on Max, and Snowball (Kevin Hart), a diminutive white rabbit with, well, the manic energy of Hart, who tediously spends much of his screen time straight-up yelling. He’s joined by a new arrival, the suddenly ubiquitous Tiffany Haddish, as a Pekingese named Daisy with designs on rescuing a baby tiger from the clutches of a nefarious circus ringmaster (Nick Kroll). Watching Kroll’s character brandish a whip and a Taser as the sad-eyed tiger cowers seems a bit much for a really young audience, though I’m all for imparting that animal circuses are, indeed, evil and abusive.
The third storyline sees Gidget training to act like a cat under the blasé instruction of Lake Bell’s feline Chloe. Their scenes are mildly fun, in the way of comfort-food jokes you have definitely seen before (catnip! It makes cats act stoned!), but no new ground’s broken. Like a neurotic hamster here bemoans of his wheel, it’s a lot of frenetic energy that goes nowhere.