From left, Liam (voiced by Henry Lynch), Max (voiced by Patton Oswalt) and Duke (voiced by Eric Stonestreet) enjoy a sweet moment in “The Secret Life of Pets 2,” which is full of such moments. (Illumination Entertainment / Universal Pictures)

From left, Liam (voiced by Henry Lynch), Max (voiced by Patton Oswalt) and Duke (voiced by Eric Stonestreet) enjoy a sweet moment in “The Secret Life of Pets 2,” which is full of such moments. (Illumination Entertainment / Universal Pictures)

Mild-mannered approach makes ‘Secret Life of Pets 2’ refreshing

This good-natured sequel’s a welcome change from the hyperactivity of most kids’ movies.

Dogs and cats get along surprisingly well in “The Secret Life of Pets 2,” a hopeful sign in our otherwise decaying social order.

As for the other secrets in this animated sequel — well, actually everybody seems to get along pretty well. There’s a pack of wolves that cause some fuss, and a manic little circus monkey, but otherwise this genial little film is pet-friendly in every sense.

Max, the slightly neurotic terrier from the first film, is back. Or back in a new form, to be more precise: In the previous movie the dog was voiced by Louis C.K., which in retrospect seems a little too on-the-nose. Given his offscreen issues, C.K. is out, because there are things you don’t want to picture him doing as a canine.

Comedian Patton Oswalt takes the role and brings more warmth to the proceedings. Here, Max’s owner has had a baby, which means Max has a new little person to protect. He’s still hanging out with the other pets in his New York apartment building, including shaggy housemate Duke (Eric Stonestreet), disdainful kitty Chloe (Lake Bell) and classy Pomeranian Gidget (Jenny Slate).

Neighbor Snowball (Kevin Hart), a bunny with delusions of superhero powers, meets his match in Daisy (Tiffany Haddish), a Shih Tzu with a mission. She needs help in trying to liberate a white tiger from a circus.

Meanwhile, Max and his family go to the countryside, where he learns valuable life lessons from a crusty hound named Rooster. The latter is voiced by Harrison Ford, who sounds more engaged than he has in years.

What’s remarkable about this film is how modest its ambitions are, especially with a certain level of expectations raised by its predecessor’s huge box-office haul. Oh sure, there’s a big action climax, which — like the new “X-Men” movie, but more fun — is staged on a moving train.

But mostly the sequel ambles along in pleasant fashion, blending wry jokes with slapstick, and relying on clever but basic animation style. The bright, sunny design mirrors the film’s attitude.

The Illumination animation corps (they’re the Minions people) seem to understand what works right now. It’ll be interesting to see if this good-natured outing becomes a big hit, because it would prove that a movie need not be super-aggressive to keep the kids happy.

“The Secret Life of Pets 2” (3 stars)

Another go-round for the slightly neurotic terrier Max (voiced by Patton Oswalt, taking over for the now-unemployable Louis C.K.), who goes to the countryside for life lessons from a hound voiced by Harrison Ford, sounding roused from his extended slumber. This animated sequel’s mild-mannered approach is actually refreshing, and a spirited voice cast (including Kevin Hart and Tiffany Haddish) keeps it funny.

Rating: PG, for subject matter

Opening: Alderwood, Alderwood Mall, Edmonds Theater, Cinebarre Mountlake Terrace, Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Marysville, Stanwood Cinemas, Meridian, Oak Tree, Pacific Place, Thornton Place, Woodinville, Blue Fox Drive-In, Cascade Mall

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