Secret Life of Pets 2 – Review

Transfiguring Adoption’s Overview:

Secret Life of Pets 2 continues the story of Max the dog in this comedic family cartoon. The film was created for consumption by the general public and especially appeals to children from elementary school age through early middle school. However, considering the popularity of the first film the second film will definitely appeal to older children and adults as well. Will this movie help foster and adoptive families? Sure, there are possibilities which we will explore below.

The film brings back all of your favorite characters from the first movies and introduces a few new characters. While the viewer is showing up to watch one story, the characters seems to quickly split up into various groups to create three separate story lines which intertwine with each other toward the end. The main storyline will follow Max as his owner is married and has a child. As the child grows toward pre-school age, Max, who is very fond of the little boy, quickly becomes overly worried with the safety the child and seems to develop a anxiety disorder, which results in a veterinary visit and a plastic cone around his head.

This alone could be enough entertainment for a whole movie but there is more. Max’s family heads to the country to visit family. On the farm Max confronts his anxieties with the help of his new hero figure and mentor a dog named Rooster.

Overall, this reviewer had a fun time watching this movie with three of my adoptive children. Everyone in our party joined the theater full of viewers with audible laughs and were completely enveloped in this various story lines. It seemed that there was one pointed trauma trigger in the movie but this didn’t seem to bother my children and the trigger seemed to be mild due to the cartoon nature of the film. Naturally, we will look at this trigger in-depth below but all in all this movie provided a very enjoyable evening and a few priceless memories.

** Spoilers Could Be Ahead **

How Is This Relevant To Adoption & Foster Care?

This movie doesn’t directly relate to foster care and adoption. Liam, who is the new child born in to the home, was born to Katie and Chuck as part of a traditional family. The closest that one might consider linking an adoption-type situation in the movie is when the cast of characters is attempting to find their white tiger friend a new home in the city.

Why should foster and adoptive families watch this movie then? Well besides the fact that it promises to deliver a great comedic experience which will create great memories for your family, the movie has themes which all children (and adults for that matter) need to grapple with in life. The movie takes a look at theme of facing your fears or being brave in the face of your own personal anxiety. The film watches characters exhibit great loyalty to their friends and taking a stand for an unjust situation.

Personally, this reviewer found that the first two themes of bravery and friendship were of great worth if explored further in foster or adoptive families. This is largely do to the fact that many children from traumatic backgrounds are going to be struggling with anxieties or severe concerns that other children may not be struggling with. Thus, it this film allows parents to talk about coping with anxieties. Likewise, children in foster care especially have potentially lost many relationships at multiple stages in their life which creates a difficulty for them to learn how to create friendships. Discussing what loyalty or following through on your word looks like is a fantastic discussion to have.

Let’s take a look at these themes up for discussion more in-depth…

Discussion Points:

  • Anxiety – Bravery
    After his owner, Katie, has a baby boy, Liam, Max grows to become very fond and attached to the new child. Max begins to obsess and overly worry about all the things that might harm Liam. Eventually, Katie has to take Max to the vet as Max has developed an unhealthy habit of scratching himself when he suffers an anxiety attack.
    For children who have come from traumatic backgrounds it could be “normalizing” for them to be able to identify with a character who struggles with anxiety. Families may choose to talk about examples of Max’s fears to see what everyone in the family feels are acceptable levels of concern as opposed to being overly worried or anxious about something.
    Rooster, a dog who lives on a farm, helps Max overcome his anxieties and serves as a hero/mentor to Max. At one point Rooster expresses to Max that acting brave is the first step to overcoming anxiety and being brave. While Max takes his mentor’s advice we can still witness that Max is scared. It would be worth families to discuss bravery and noting that people that are brave still might be scared. It might be worth noting that Rooster gave Max the motivation (albeit seemingly slim encouragement) to keep moving forward. It would be good for families to discuss how to utilize other people as supports to walk through anxiety-ridden moments.
  • Loyalty – Keeping Your Promises
    Before Max leaves on a trip to a farm with his family, he enlists his friend, Gidget, to watch his favorite toy. Unfortunately, Gidget accidentally allows the toy ball to bounce out of her apartment and into the apartment filled with cray and dangerous looking cats. Gidget could have decided to leave the toy but is determined to get the toy back since she promised Max she would watch his prized toy.
    Children who have come through the foster care system and adoption may have had little or no role modeling for forming healthy relationships. Thus, it is difficult for them to know how to form healthy family relationships or healthy friendships. The storyline in this movie involving Gidget will allow families to discuss loyalty in friendships and keep your promises as we witness Gidget working hard to keep her promise to her friend Max.
  • Standing Up Against Injustice
    Snowball, the bunny, and Daisy, the dog, embark on a quest to free an abused white tiger from the circus. After freeing the tiger their quest doesn’t stop as they must find a new home to care for the tiger. Their whole adventure begins when Daisy witnesses the tiger’s abuse and she chooses to right the wrong.
    This is a great theme to discuss within any household but it can be especially empowering for our children who may have first-hand been exposed to abuse or other injustices. It would be good for families to discuss how Snowball and Daisy handle the situation to learn what family members believe was done correctly/incorrectly to make the situation right. It would also be good for parents to create some hypothetical situations where children might witness an injustice and see how they would handle the situation.
  • Coping with New Family Normals
    At the beginning of the film the main character, Max, expresses his dislike of children. The movie then quickly shows Max having to cope with the addition of a new baby boy into his household. As the boy grows into a toddler Max shares with the viewer about the negative feelings he has toward the child as the family unit is discovering a new “normal.” Eventually, Liam (the young boy) and Max grow a fondness for each other and a new and loving co-existence is created.
    When looking at media resources for foster care and adoption, we rarely see something that allows us to discuss how family dynamics are going to change with our birth children. If a family had birth children in the home prior to foster care or adoption, it would be good for them to use this film to discuss with them (possibly in private) about the changes Max experienced and see if your child is experiencing changes as well.

Cautionary Points:

  • Animal Abuse
    During the movie the circus owner, Sergei, can be heard cracking a whip at a young white tiger. The tiger is definitely seen as cringing from the attacks and shies away from the owner and his henchmen. The tiger is also seen being forced to perform circus tricks against his will. The depiction of the abuse is mild. However, it should be noted that these scenes do exist as a part of one of the three storylines happening in the movie. If your child is particularly sensitive to seeing/hearing animals being abused you might want to view this movie before your child sees it. Again, most of the abuse is simply heard but we do see the emotional effects of the abuse. The whipping of the tiger is a very brief part of the movie and simply allows us to understand why the characters in the movie go to great lengths to help free the tiger.
  • Participation in Anxiety Induced Situations
    Max the dog finds himself with many new fears and anxieties throughout this movie. On the farm a dog named Rooster helps Max overcome his fears by forcing him to confront his fears. At one point Max is made to climb the side of a cliff and get a lamb on a tree growing out of the side of the cliff. There is no real discussion or help to get him through this situation other than Rooster the dog sternly telling Max to keep going forward. While this might be a successful course of action for some people, more than likely children from traumatic backgrounds are going to require a more nurturing approach and consequently children may be triggered by experiencing a character in the movie being forced to push through his anxieties.

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Transfiguring Adoption is a nonprofit organization seeking to nurture growth in foster and adoptive families by giving a HOOT about their families. Transfiguring Adoption does not intend for its reviewers nor its review to be professional, medical or legal advice. These reviews and discussion guides are intended to help parents to better be able to connect and understand their children who come from traumatic backgrounds.

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