Secret Life of Pets 2: 'It's expressive. It's fun. I just couldn't think of a better job'
The Secret Life of Pets 2 once again answers the age-old question: What are your pets really doing when you're not at home? But there's also a message for the parents amongst us, insist stars Kevin Hart and Eric Stonestreet. Gemma Dunn finds out more
Put Eric Stonestreet and Kevin Hart in a room together and you're guaranteed some laughs. Between Stonestreet's mission to increase his co-star's Instagram following (Hart already boasts a modest 74.5 million) to the pair squabbling over whose house would provide the best basis for a sleepover, there's little pause for breath.
"I have three kids; I have a very loud house!" quips Hart (39).
"I'd offer him some peace and quiet; we'd play some Nintendo or something. Maybe a game. Do you like gaming?" suggests Stonestreet (47).
"No! Why are you still gaming at this age?" Hart fires back. "I like the chaotic because it's just my version of chaotic."
Phew. But there's more to their reunion than just personal invites - the comedic actor duo are reunited to promote The Secret Life of Pets 2, the highly anticipated sequel to the 2016 blockbuster.
Illumination's 10th animated feature, this new chapter pledges to explore the emotional lives of our pets, and the deep bond between them and the families that love them.
It answers the question that has long intrigued every pet owner: What are your pets really doing when you're not at home?
A who's who of comedy talent, the follow-up sees Patton Oswalt return as terrier Max, whose anxiety is subsequently tested on a family trip to the farm, alongside mutt Duke (Stonestreet).
There's also a veteran farm dog in Rooster (voiced by none other than Harrison Ford, who makes his animated-film debut); a plucky Pomeranian Gidget (Jenny Slate); their feline friend (Lake Bell); the return of crazy-but-cute bunny, Snowball (Hart); and newbie Daisy, a fearless Shih Tzu, voiced by the brilliant Tiffany Haddish.
So, a bit of background: Since we last saw them, room-mates Duke and Max have been grappling with some life changes - namely the introduction of their owner Katie's (Ellie Kemper) husband (Pete Holmes) and toddler son, Liam.
"Duke and Max, we consider Liam our kid," reasons Stonestreet. "We want him to look up to us, and we want to set good examples for him.
"It's such a sweet relationship, and one that I think a lot of parents are going to see themselves in," he insists. "So many of us are so worried about life and dangers for our kids, but kids have got to find a little danger to learn lessons in life."
For Kansas-born Stonestreet, Duke represents what is best and pure about dogs, and our relationships with them.
"My favourite quality of Duke's is his earnestness and his immediate trust in people," muses the Modern Family star.
"That's what's so great about dogs," he continues. "Dogs are born wanting to trust and love you. It's innate. It's only when something tragic happens in their lives that that trust is lost.
"So, I think of Duke as a bit of an innocent, and I love that about him."
As for Snowball, now happily domesticated, the former warrior bunny spends his days in adorable outfits - his favourite costume being a pair of superhero pyjamas, which earn him the title of 'Captain Snowball'.
"Being a superhero means everything to Snowball," Hart says. "His biggest challenge is realising that his belief that he's a superhero doesn't match up with the physical reality of being one."
For the North Philly native, the choice to return to the character - the breakout star of the first Pets - was also a given.
"There's always a high level of discovery, playing Snowball, and I credit the creators, the director and the writers for letting me bring as much to the character as I can," says the Ride Along actor, who along with the rest of the cast, was encouraged to ad lib during recording sessions.
"To date, when I get in that recording booth, there has never been a hand in front of me telling me to stop or to not push or to be more creative," he confides.
"When you have people around you like that, you're constantly evolving."
It was the same sentiment for Stonestreet - who found coming back to this franchise for a second film was an easy decision.
"I have a blast doing the recording sessions. I love it," he recalls, revealing: "Before Modern Family I took animation and voice-over classes. I always aspired to get into this world, so it's a dream come true to be able to do it.
"It's freeing. It's expressive. It's fun. I just couldn't think of a better job."
Is there a take-away message from the film-makers?
"The message that parents should take, which is really, really good, is the 'letting go factor'," Hart claims.
"I'm doing it now. I've got teenage daughters and I can see the letting go message that Max and Duke are struggling with, with the little baby, of not being overprotective," he notes.
"As a father, now, my daughter wants to go the movies with just her friends from school, and [it's] 'Is it OK dad, if we just walk to my friend's house?'
"The walk! In the street? You wanna put your two feet in the street, one after the other, to go somewhere? Have you lost your mind?" he shrieks. " 'No, get your ass in the car!'
"So, I'm now letting go of everything," Hart finishes. "I'm trying... there's a good piece of that in this film."
The Secret Life of Pets 2 is in cinemas now