Over two decades after the original Toy Story, The Secret Life of Pets asks what would happen if pets had a fully developed consciousness. Bizarrely, they will not ask to be liberated from the yoke of what is essentially slavery by humans or even betray that they have mastered the English language.

They will go about their business, which are more like adventures wherein they will learn the importance of friendship or staring down one’s fears.

In this regard, Toy Story was as ridiculous a concept - falling apart the second someone tries to think deeply about the whole scenario - as Life of Pets. But the former had a great plot, unforgettable characters and profound themes - Toy Story 3 was almost perfect. Life of Pets has Kevin Hart and furry little animals.

The 2016 original - if something as derivative as this can be considered original - introduced us to a host of characters in a New York apartment building, all of whose owners are careful to leave the windows wide open at all times so that the pets can interact, and this movie can happen.

The protagonist was Max, whose human owner brings home a stray. Max first hates his new buddy, but later on they have to band together to get back home after getting lost. This is evidently a boring plotline, since the screenwriter sought to include a subplot in the movie. Unfortunately, that subplot involved a white rabbit named Snowball, voiced by the ever-obnoxious Kevin Hart, who is heading an insignificant revolution against human superiority.

That bunny rabbit could have uploaded a video of himself doing something intelligent on the internet, which could have brought down every single prevailing socio-political structure that exists in the world. But this is also the kind of thinking that ruins movies like Toy Story, and I would have been perfectly willing to suspend belief as long as I was treated to an interesting story. This was not the case in either the first or the second Life of Pets movies.

The Secret Life of Pets 2 initially begins by continuing Max’s (Patton Oswalt) main story thread from the first movie, where he and his new buddy are happy that their owner has gotten married and had a baby. But Max suddenly realises how dangerous the world could be for children and tries to protect the baby in every way he can.

Then the film drops this story thread to transform itself into the pet-version of Do the Right Thing. It becomes s day in the life of pets instead of their secrets. Max goes on a trip to the countryside and has to adapt to a grittier way of life, Snowball (Hart) has to help rescue a white tiger from the circus and one of Max’s friends; Gidget (Jenny Slate) has to steal back a toy from a bunch of cats. I am not sure if I appreciate the movie for trying to juggle multiple storylines in one movie and tie them together smoothly by the climax or mad at it for spectacularly failing at its objective. Does effort count in art?

Not when one has to pay to experience it, especially at 3D ticket prices. Toy Story never tried to explore what it really means to be a toy - though existentialism has kind of managed to creep in. It was mostly about friendships. The Secret Life of Pets 2 tries to give us a glimpse into the diverse lives of the pets in a New York apartment building without touching upon the socio-political and existentialist circumstances of being a pet. The latter should have stuck to a less ambitious project.

It is not only the plot that is different from the first movie but also the actor that voices the lead character, Max. The franchise was unlucky enough to have two of its lead actors, Louis C.K. and Hart, be accused of sexual misconduct and homophobic comments, respectively, within the past three years. C.K. was booted off the project but Hart was lucky enough to stay - he was a far bigger star and his misdeeds were less atrocious.

It turns out that the movie was just as bad as it would have been had C.K. remained attached to the project.

PUBLISHED ON Jun 22,2019 [ VOL 20 , NO 999]

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