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WATCHING THE MOVIES: The Secret Life of Pets 2

A simple, well-done animated movie that's controversial for some reason.

Yes, I know I said Dark Phoenix was next this week. But I started seeing all the bad press and I just couldn’t make myself watch it. Plus, three people on Twitter told me to see The Secret Life of Pets 2 instead. As I am ever a man of the people, I did so.

For some reason, this movie is controversial now. It’s been dragged kicking and screaming into the Big Cultural Conversation we are currently having over masculinity. I assume these are the same cultural guardians who trumpeted that Zootopia was actually about racism, and thus a Very Important Movie. (Me, I just thought it was a solid film with some good messages about not judging folks and persevering to reach your goals. But that’s neither here nor there.)

The Wrap, a publication that exists, published this rancid attempt at clickbait criticizing the “outdated messages about marriage [and] manliness” inherent in this film about cute animals for children.

Setting aside for a moment the obvious genetic fallacy, this is a magnificent exercise in windmill-jousting. And it’s actually reminiscent of the struggle Max, our main pro-dog-inist, overcomes in the film.

The aforementioned stretch of a review has a big problem with Rooster, the gruff, grizzled sheepdog Max meets while on vacation at the family farm. See, Max is a city dog – in fact, he’s from the city, New York. His owner has a baby named Liam, who grows into an adorable toddler. Max loves him so much that he gets overprotective, scared of every shadow, constantly worried about what could happen to little Liam. It gets so bad that his vet prescribes a cone to prevent him from nervously scratching.

The farm brings a whole new set of perceived dangers that terrify neurotic Max. Rooster, on the other hand, faces farm life with a laconic brusqueness. And just by following the Harrison-Ford-voiced veteran around, Max learns to face his fears, take courage, and appreciate the world more fully. His demeanor begins to change from worry to confidence when he takes Rooster’s chief lesson to heart: “The first step of not being afraid is acting like you’re not afraid.”

This is a good lesson for anyone to learn, particularly little kids encountering our big, bold world for the first time. The world calls you to courage. And Max realizes this by movie’s end: “When life throws something at you, you have two choices: run from it, or run at it.”

Max, accompanied by large brown dog buddy Duke, goes on this journey of self-discovery while our other pet friends have their own, more inconsequential side adventures. Gidget, the pampered pup with a crush on Max, loses one of his favorite toys when it bounces into a cat lady’s apartment. She has to enlist Chloe, her sarcastic feline buddy, to learn to be a cat so she can recover her charge. Meanwhile, superhero-loving bunny Snowball (a very recognizable Kevin Hart) accompanies plucky Shih Tzu Daisy in a quest to rescue a young white tiger from a cartoonishly villainous abusive circus owner. Hijinks ensue.

The blah, forgettable nature of these two B plots was a real drag on the film, though good for some chuckles and aww moments. Kids’ll eat them up. I just wish the film’s writers had tried a bit harder to give them a point beyond “here’s something for the other characters from the last movie to do.”

Illumination’s animation is bright and sunny. I was especially enthralled by the variety of pet animations. The fur on a few of these very good boys (and girls!) looked hyperreal.

The premise of the last Pets movie boiled down to “Toy Story, but with adorable animals.” That’s been done, so the dogs/cats/birds interacting with each other doesn’t get much focus. It’s mostly just some wacky, fun adventures with a needed message – a feel-good, joy-filled short flick. They don’t make many simple, easygoing kids movies like this anymore. They should.

RATING: 8/10

No movie review next week, as I’ll be traveling and assiduously avoiding the incoming disaster that is MIB: International. Until next time, roll credits!

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