Tiffany Haddish

158: The Secret Life of Pets 2 Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com/camseyeview. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

As a reviewer, I have seen so many arguments and comments thrown at films, studios, brands, and what have you, that are clichéd and boring. One of the most boring and trite comments and arguments I keep seeing are about Illumination Entertainment. Listen, I’m not saying their films are secretly good, or you have to stop hating on them. I will say though that they aren’t lazy. They have talented animators and people there making these films that rake in millions. However, I would argue a more proper criticism would be that they lack ambition, and are too nervous to step out of their safety bubble to expand their horizons of writing and storytelling. There is nothing wrong with not wanting to be a Disney or a Pixar-caliber film, but that doesn’t mean you slack off on the writing, animation, and story. Sooner or later, you will find yourself being forgotten for the next flashy animated experience. It’s actually kind of happening to Illumination’s newest film, The Secret Life of Pets 2. Directed by Illumination Entertainment mainstay Chris Renaud, Pets 2 is the sequel to the smash hit original film from 2016. It came out on June 7th of 2019, and while it was getting the usual mixed-to-mostly-negative reviews, it wasn’t the instant smash hit most of their films tend to be, financially. While it has made $203 mil on its $80 mil budget as of writing this review, it’s not the runaway hit as their other films were. Sure, it’s probably going to make more money as time goes on and after leaving theaters, but it is interesting to see this happen. Are people finally getting tired of Illumination’s style of filmmaking, or was a possibly good film caught victim in 2019’s summer film drought? Well, let’s dive into this world of fluffy animal shenanigans.

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The story once again follows our hero Max, a small dog now voiced by Patton Oswalt. Along with his buddy Duke, voiced by Eric Stonestreet, they are happy with their current life with their owner Katie, voiced by Ellie Kemper. That is, until Katie falls in love with a man she meets named Chuck, voiced by Pete Holmes. After the two get married, they have a kid, and while at first Max and the new kid don’t get along, Max soon begins to love him, and then becomes overly protective and afraid of the world around him. To solve this issue, he and Duke go on a trip to the countryside to a farm, and end up meeting an old sheep dog named Rooster, voiced by Harrison Ford. While this is going on, two other stories are happening. The second story revolves around Gidget, a pomeranian voiced by Jenny Slate, who ends up losing Max’s favorite toy inside the crazy cat lady’s home, and must get the help of Chloe, voiced by Lake Bell, to learn the ways of the cat to get it back. The third story revolves around Snowball, voiced by Kevin Hart, who is contacted by a shih tzu named Daisy, voiced by Tiffany Haddish to help save a tiger that is being held hostage by a cruel circus owner that is voiced by Nick Kroll.

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Yeah, if that sounds like a lot, then it is. Once again, we find Illumination having trouble trying to stretch out plots that could fill the 80+ minute runtime, and it’s not like they couldn’t have. Some of these plots might be generic with typical animated tropes that you have seen before, but at least it would have been focused. They could have easily made this film entirely around Max and Rooster’s dynamic, because the theme of overcoming your fears is not a bad one. I actually enjoyed bits and pieces of Max and Rooster’s relationship with one another, and in a better movie, they probably would have explored the idea of how to overcome your fears. It’s not executed in the best way possible, but I give them credit for at least trying a little. That theme does connect the three stories, but the pacing and flow of the three stories in the film is so awkward, that it keeps abruptly pushing you into each story as it unfolds. It comes off like they weren’t fully sure on how to keep you interested with the multitude of characters that are in the previous film that are now in this film. Most of them don’t really do much, or do anything to help the story. It’s a case of too many characters, huge expensive names attached to them, and they are given little to do. I remember a friend of mine suggesting that this franchise should turn to making a series of shorts or a TV series, and that would make sense. That way, you can flesh everyone out more, and not have to worry about using them, because you forgot to do something with them. The final act has decent action, but due to how low the stakes are, it’s hard to feel invested. Like, it’s so hard to care about half of the storylines because they either end abruptly, or the characters vanish for a mass majority of the film, like the kid and the owner’s new husband. There was seriously no reason to hire Pete Holmes for the role of the husband. He has, like, four lines in the film, and they could have been done by Jeff Bennett or Steve Blum.

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Now, it’s time for some positives. I found the animation to be quite good. It’s another sign that Illumination is still getting better at their animation skills. Character movements and facial expressions are vibrant, and once again, they get little animal characteristics down for the different pets that you see. I also enjoyed the voice cast. Patton Oswalt takes over for Louis C.K. as Max, and to be frank, Patton Oswalt is a way better Max. He knows how to capture that casual innocence of a dog. Harrison Ford is also a pleasant surprise as this was his first voice-over role. Isn’t that surprising? His first voice-over role in his entire career. Anyway, he captures Rooster’s stoic nature, but he also shows he isn’t just a hard-edged individual. Of course, Lake Bell steals any scene that she is in as this pedantic sarcastic cat. The others do a good job, and it was fun to see Dana Carvey as his old dog character from the first film, have a few good laughs in this film with his character interacting with a bunch of puppies.

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There isn’t a whole lot to say about The Secret Life of Pets 2. It’s a dull experience. It might be the most forgettable film Illumination Entertainment has made yet. It might be making a bit of money, but with Toy Story 4 out right now, it’s probably going to dry up. Maybe this is a sign that people are getting tired of Illumination Entertainment, or maybe it’s just a realization that this was never meant to be a big theatrical franchise. Maybe it’s time for them to start making this into a series of shorts, or a TV series for Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime. Maybe with a TV design philosophy, they can flex their creative muscles. All I know is that there is no reason to see this in theaters. I would have been much happier that, since this was animated by a French studio, if it was a smaller character-focused story that has a more laid-back vibe to it. People tend to not know that many French/European/Foreign animated features have very laid-back paces and stories, and that is something American studios can learn from overseas studios. Anyway, it’s time to move onto something that’s more interesting to talk about. Next time, we will talk about one of three Netflix-exclusive animated features out this year with Pachamama. Thanks for reading! I hope you all enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Lackluster!

149: The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com/camseyeview. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

People forget how certain films were lightning-in-a-bottle situations. It was just the right time period with the right directors, writers, and ideas that make films like Ghostbusters, Spirited Away, Tim Burton’s Batman, Moonstruck, Mad Max: Fury Road, Pan’s LabyrinthSpider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and you get the idea. It’s not fair to them if some of them get sequels and rarely live up to the expectations set on them. This is why I go into everything with middle-ground expectations. It’s to not over-hype myself or under-hype myself for any movie and can go into it with proper expectations. Now then, sometimes, lightning does strike twice, and it has for The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part. Directed this time by Mike Mitchell, who also directed DreamWorks’ Trolls, Sky High, and Shrek Forever After, the original writers and directors of the first film, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, returned as producers and writers of the film alongside Dan Lin, Roy Lee, and Jinko Gotch. Luckily, for many, the newest movie in the LEGO franchise ends up being another dose of awesome. Why? Read the review to find out.

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The sequel starts us off five years after the first film where the world of Brickburg is now a dystopian wasteland called Apocalypseburg after the invasion of the beings from the planet Duplo. Chris Pratt returns as Emmet, who really isn’t affected by the cynical dystopian wasteland, with his girlfriend Lucy, voiced again by Elizabeth Banks. One day, as Lucy tries to force Emmet to change, a new “alien” encounter arrives in the city and comes off as an aggressive alien force taking down anything that tries to stop it. This alien force turns out to be a new character named General Mayhem, voiced by Stephanie Beatriz. After beating everyone, Mayhem ends up taking Lucy, Benny, voiced by Charlie Day, Unikitty, voiced by Alison brie, MetalBeard, voiced by Nick Offerman, and Batman, voiced by Will Arnett back with her to the Systar System to her queen, Queen Watevra Wa-Nabi, voiced by Tiffany Haddish. Emmet decides to go save the day, and runs into another character named Rex Dangervest, also voiced by Chris Pratt. Can Emmet save the day and get his friends back from the Systar System before the Our-Mom-Ageddon happens?

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So, what does this sequel do to progress the story and build upon the original? Well, a lot. I think many will tell you that there is a very heavy theme of tackling toxic masculinity. Sure, it’s not new with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Ralph Breaks the Internet also tackling it, but since it still keeps being a thing in the culture of right now in fandoms, I’m always grateful to directors and writers telling people to stop being jerks! It shows how metaphorically and literally, toxic masculinity is damaging and destructive. I also loved the commentary about the current times we live in. Back in 2014, everything was pretty awesome. Sadly, with how things are being run in the world, the world is not always awesome. It’s really easy to simply slide into edgy cynicism and just hate everything. However, while things do suck, find the positive in the world. It’s not fun just sitting in a puddle of misery and think everything is terrible. There are still good things going on that are happening. You don’t need to harden yourself with a shell of cynicism and hate to take on the world. Just be you.

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I love the returning characters and the new characters added to the LEGO Movie universe. Tiffany Haddish’s Queen Watevra Wa-Nabi, is easily my favorite new character to the franchise. She’s a fun, complex, and entertaining character to watch. With this being an animated feature, they take full advantage of her being, well, Watevra Wa-Nabi. Of course, talking about the new characters can’t be complete if we don’t talk about Rex Dangervest. While on the surface, it’s a very obvious walking Chris Pratt joke, but as the film goes on, you do get a little deeper with him about his bro attitude and his connection to the themes and stories of the film. It just shows how talented Lord and Miller are in writing. While there might not be as much of that magic that was in the first film, the sequel is still full of topical subject matter that was executed properly and was easy for kids and adults in my two theater screenings of it to get. There are layers to this film that will keep people thinking and talking about it way past 2019.

Animation-wise, this is the best-looking LEGO movie yet. They seem to have found the proper balance and speed of the LEGO visual aesthetic and combining it with a few real life textures of the sand in Apocalypseburg. They also slowed down the speed of the comedy as the jokes are now more dialogue-based and less cram a joke into every scene in the foreground, background, and in the script.  Still, I think that’s for the best. One of the few issues the original had was that it was just too fast and flashy. It’s still a visual spectacle that you can’t believe is all CGI, but at least you aren’t needing to turn your head away for a moment or pause to give your eyes a rest. The voice cast is also stellar with returning actors and the new actors. Chris Pratt just has his loveable goofy persona down, Elizabeth Banks as Lucy is still a great female lead, Will Arnett is just funny as Batman, Charlie Day and Nick Offerman are still a hoot, this is probably my favorite Tiffany Haddish performance, and even minor characters from actors like Richard Ayoade, Maya Rudolph, and Ben Schwartz pulled in multiple laughs. We can’t go talking about this film without mentioning the insanely catchy musical numbers! I was floored by the fact that this was a musical, which was kept out of the marketing of the movie. Heck, a lot of the twists and turns were kept out of the movie, but we won’t go into those. Anyway, the musical numbers were like the ones from Moana, no filler and all were killer.

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If there was something that could be said that detracts from the film, it would be that there isn’t much that can be considered surprising. It doesn’t try to push the boundary like the first film did. It’s really not the film’s fault that we had two spin-off LEGO films that came out in one year, which may have sort of taken the spark out of the franchise. To me, I look at it as a Godfather and Godfather Part II situation.  Both are incredible movies, and while you can say not much was expanded or revolutionary, you wouldn’t call the second movie a lesser movie, would you? Both are incredible movies. Now, one thing I will agree with is that some of the pacing is not as fluid as the first film, as it does seem to stop and halt a bit more with one plot until near the end of the second act when everything starts to come together.

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While it is a bummer that this film isn’t doing as well in terms of financial success, due to either LEGO movie burnout or the weather that’s keeping everyone inside their respected homes, I still love LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part. I think it’s just as good as the first film with its story, writing, jokes, and music. However, I would be happy to not have to see another one anytime soon. I think if Warner Bros. was smart, they would slow down for a bit, and make some more animated features that are not based on the LEGO franchise. Maybe see what else Lord and Miller can do, or maybe use them to talent scout new directors and writers that they recommend. Either way, I still highly recommend going out and seeing The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part. Well then, next time, it will be the 150th animated review. I think we shall go big with a look at an unfortunate trilogy of films that Netflix decided to bring over. Thank you for reading! I hope you all enjoyed this review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Criterion/Essentials.