Illumination’s The Secret Life of Pets 2, the sequel to its hit 2016 feature, is expected to perform well at the box office this weekend, yet weekend projections are estimated to be far behind its predecessor. Though critics haven’t embraced the animated comedy-adventure — it currently holds an unflattering 54% rating on Rotten Tomatoes — audience reactions have been positive, with 94% giving the film a thumbs up.

Catering to parents with young children who have already watched Disney’s hybrid Aladdin, The Secret Life of Pets 2 is set to open stateside on 4,561 screens. Despite going up against Fox’s Dark Phoenix, analysts project Illumination’s latest will end up on top, with a $50+ million domestic gross. While that number is not insubstantial, it lags in comparison to the original’s U.S. opening of $104.3 million. The first installment went on to make $368M domestically, and combined with its international, $875.4M worldwide.

Chris Renaud, who was in charge of the first chapter, returns as director, with the production adding Jonathan del Val (animation director on the original film) as co-director. Brian Lynch, who penned the original, is the returning screenwriter. Most of the core cast is also back, with the notorious exception of Louis C.K. who previously voiced Max, the canine protagonist. Now, famous animal lover Patton Oswalt is taking over the role. Kevin Hart (Snowball), Jenny Slate (Gidget), Eric Stonestreet (Duke), and Lake Bell (Chloe) reprised their parts. Pets 2 adds Harrison Ford (Rooster) in his first animated voice role ever, and Tiffany Haddish (Daisy).

The production was made at Illumination Mac Guff in Paris, France, with some pre-production work done at Illumination’s U.S. head office in Santa Monica, California.

Even though most of the elements that made the 2016 film a top-grossing project are contained within this film, reviewers mostly feel the sequel falls short. One of recurrent complaints is the way the story is divided into three episodes focused on different characters, which lack coherence or a strong throughline. Few critics delved into the characteristics of the animation, as by design, it’s similar to the original.

Here are some takes on the film from critics at major publications:

Writing for RogerEbert.com, Christy Lemire noted the lack of cohesiveness in the screenplay because of the segmented approach:

Renaud and del Val jarringly jump around between these three stories in a way that only emphasizes their episodic nature. This thing happens, and then this thing, and then this thing. But none of the plotlines builds much momentum individually, much less together, and then they all just sort of collide at the end when everyone’s back home in the big city. It’s more of the same as the original Pets, and yet less. Your kids will be sufficiently entertained, but they also deserve a dog that’s willing to learn a few new tricks.

In her review for New York Post, Sara Stewart questioned the very existence of the sequel:

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.

Meanwhile, Kristen Page-Kirby of The Washington Post discussed the lack of originality and detail in the animation:

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.

For Entertainment Weekly, Chris Nashawaty was apathetic about Illumination’s latest and deemed it unworthy of the big screen:

As 86-minute kids’ movies go, The Secret Life of Pets 2 is shockingly padded. It’s the same old dogs with no new tricks. After a while, it either doesn’t know where to go or you just stop caring. The smile on your face in the first act starts to feel more like an obligatory plastered-on grin by the third. In other words, it’s the definition of “perfectly fine.” Still, it might seem like a better bargain in the on-demand comforts of one’s own living room than in the sticker-shock showroom of a multiplex.

Representing one of the “positive” reviews, Bilge Ebiri’s take in The New York Times was still a lukewarm recommendation:

Too scattered narratively to cohere, and yet somehow still funny enough to justify its existence, The Secret Life of Pets 2 makes for an entertaining trifle…But despite indifferent plotting, Pets 2 has some winning gags, often cleverly built around these creatures’ all-too-familiar qualities; any cat owner who’s had their pet walk all over their laptop keyboard before knocking over a coffee mug will chuckle in recognition. The movie is a time-waster, but (mostly) in a good way.

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