★★★

The Secret Life of Pets 2 doesn’t outshine its predecessor.  The lack of an original twist such as in Ralph Breaks the Internet or the emotional resonance of the Toy Story series prevents it from ascending to greater heights. But the only thing kids movies truly need is some good laughs, and the film delivers the goods.

At first glance, The Secret Life of Pets 2 appears to pursue the classic conflict of throwing a baby into the mix. Think Boss Baby or The Rugrats Movie. This film, however, takes a more affirmative approach to newfound siblings. The crying and wailing phase is condensed into the very first minute. Once Liam says he loves Max (Patton Oswalt) for the first time, it’s a wrap. The story alters into the mechanisms of Max’s anxiety and how he deals with keeping Liam safe from the outside world.

The life lesson that The Secret Life of Pets 2 attempts to teach kids is to be brave. Unfortunately, the film trades in the sensitive touch of the actual Brave movie for a more hasty approach. Max even summarizes it in the film, “You have two choices: run from it or run at it.”

As a result, the film riskily encourages the ‘fake it ‘til you make it’ methodology. In order to show their bravery, the pets all dig deep to embody a different persona. Captain Snowball (Kevin Hart) pretends to be a superhero that saves pets’ lives. Max pretends to be like the tough, older John Wayne of dogs: Rooster (Harrison Ford). Meanwhile, Gidget (Jenny Slate) pretends to be a cat in order to infiltrate a cat den and rescue Max’s ball. Max has anxiety, but anyone with real-life anxiety can confirm that it’s not something you just pretend not to have. It’s one of the precarious aspects of the film in that the older generation (Rooster) wants the younger generation (Max) to just buck up and “run at it,” even when that isn’t always the most sage advice.

The optimistic side of pretending to be someone you’re not, however, is the ideology of walking a day in another’s shoes or making friends of your enemies. With gusto and humor, The Secret Life of Pets 2 bridges the gap between theoretically locked adversaries: old and young, wild and tamed, and cats and dogs.

The film’s top comedic moments are during the cat bits. Chloe (Lake Bell) waking up her owner by smacking her face, meowing, and throwing up a hairball is perhaps the most accurate experience depicted on film all year. Surprisingly enough, Kevin Hart’s Snowball isn’t utilized as the main comedic attraction as in the first film. But if you stay past the credits, the Snowball rap scene is well worth the wait: “I got broads in Atlanta, panda, panda, panda…”