Didja like the first movie? Good! Then go back and rent/stream that one, ’cause this one suffers from sequel-itis, a common occurrence when writers can’t think of a plausible story and end up coming up with THREE different plots that mesh into one finale. Does it pant happy like a dog or cough up a hairball like a cat? Let’s see.
Remember Max the terrier? Voiced by Patton Oswald this time around (Louis C.K. was not invited back for *ahem* obvious reasons), Max and his buddy sheepdog Duke (Eric Stonestreet) are now faced with new challenges in their lives: their master, Katie (Elle Kemper) has just married Chuck (Pete Holmes) and, lo and behold, they have baby later on… something Max is none too keen on. But after a few years, toddler Liam grows and Max becomes an over-protective doggy-daddy of the child. This leads to his nervous scratching and the ‘cone-of-shame’ he has to wear. But a trip out to the country with his family ought to sort things out, right?
That’s plot A. Plot B is about “busy bee” (remember the chew toy from Best In Show?), Max’s favorite ball toy. Next door neighbor Pomeranian Gidget (Jenny Slate) loses the ball inside an apartment filled with cats and one senile ol’ cat lady. Can she fake being a cat by taking “cat” lessons from Chloe (Lake Bell), the world’s snobbiest feline? Will Chloe infiltrate the cat ladies home and successfully retrieve Max’s precious ball without being spotted? Okay, so that’s Plot B.
Now we have Plot C: Reformed villain & terrorist bunny Snowball (Kevin Hart) has, with the help of his little girl master, adopted a superhero disguise and costume. That comes in handy as Shih Tzu Daisy (Tiffany Haddish) begs for his help to rescue a large white tiger cub in the clutches of Sergei (Nick Kroll), the sinister owner of Happy Sergei’s Circus Of Fun. Is Sergei weird? Um, he looks and dresses like the Wicked Witch of the West and has a (non-flying) pet monkey as his side-kick. As Daisy & Snowball attempt to free the tiger (named Hu who doesn’t speak for some odd reason), their plans are thwarted by four Russian wolf-hounds!
Needless to say, all three plots run con-currently, ping-ponging from one storyline to the other until all three converge at the end. There are a few fun moments like Harrison Ford voicing a dog named Rooster giving Max sage (and gruff) advice, the cat lady’s creepy apt, and Snowball’s fight with the monkey. But Brian Lynch’s screenplay is mostly for little kids with it’s wildly implausible animal antics, wacky set-ups, and impossible situations that can ONLY happen in an animated movie. Don’t even try to use logic here, it simply doesn’t exist. The ‘jokes’ here, unlike the first film, are far and in-between.
Just like in 2016’s Secret Life of Pets, director Chris Renaud keeps the pace frenetic and lively, like jangling some colorful keys in front of your eyes. Oh sure, that’s great if you’re a child, but for us adults, we need a bit more substance, thank you very much. The multiple storylines clash with each other and are only intermittently amusing, giving the whole film a scattershot feel. Whereas the first one was hilarious with sight gags, a meaty story, charm, and lotsa pop-culture references, this one is sadly lacking all of that. I think this movie needs to go back to the vet to be neutered.
In a wild move at Disney animation, Pixar’s John Lasseter came in and saved this movie from being the disaster it was becoming. The original story (called American Dog) was thrown out and this new one pumped up, improved, given a heart and a fantastic plot. Result? One of Disney’s very best underrated and brilliant animated movies.
Lassie, Rin-Tin-Tin, Old Yeller, and Toto gots nuthin’ on Bolt! Taken from a pet store as a puppy, this lovable little white Shepard mix was immediately groomed by a huge movie studio for one purpose: to become a TV star! Five years later, Bolt (voiced by John Travolta) and 12-year-old Penny (Miley Cyrus) star in a hit television series called Bolt, in which a genetically-altered dog uses his various superpowers to protect a young girl (Penny) from various villains. But Bolt actually believes all of this, having been born and raised in the microcosm of the studio where his “superpowers” are just SPFX and his devastatingly powerful sonic “superbark” is faked.
After a studio exec sites “demographic issues”, a cliffhanger episode has Penny kidnapped, causing Bolt to escape from his on-set trailer in Hollywood to ‘rescue’ his beloved master. He accidentally gets shipped off to NYC where he resumes his search for Penny, finding his “superpowers” are useless. Thinking a mean feral cat named Mittens (Susie Essman) works for the evil Dr. Calico (Malcolm McDowell) who kidnapped Penny, Bolt threatens Mittens to guide him back to Penny, even though Mittens is convinced her captor is a lunatic. Thus starts their long journey westward by truck, cars, motorhome, etc.
Meanwhile, in Hollywood, Penny is distraught over Bolt’s disappearance but is told by the studio to continue filming with a less experienced lookalike dog. At a campsite, Bolt and Mittens meet a rabid Bolt super-fan. Rhino (Mark Walton), a hamster-in-a-ball, knows all about the TV show, and wants to join them on their quest. While all this happening, Bolt is slowly learning the harsh truth about himself… he’s just a dog. Coming to grips about NOT being a superdog is bad enough, but being told this by a CAT? Devastating. There’s adventures and life-threatening perils on the road, but they finally reach Hollywood after a pit stop in Las Vegas.
When Bolt enters the studio and sees that he’s been replaced, it’s hard to keep the eyes dry. The ending, complete with a daring rescue and Bolt coming back is just about great as it sounds. In my opinion, Bolt ranks right up there with Pixar’s Ratatouille and The Incredibles as some of the finest animated feature films ever made. Just watch the opening five minutes action sequence. It rivals ANY TV or movie action that the MCU or DCU has offered! Lasseter saved this film from utter doom with his patented “make ’em laugh, then make ’em cry” formula.