The great entertainer Will Rogers once said, “if there are no dogs in heaven, then when I die, I want to go where they went”.
Well, after watching A Dog’s Purpose, I have good news and bad news for our friend Mr Rogers.
The bad news is, contrary to that old cartoon, all dogs don’t go to heaven; instead, they return to earth after they’ve died, reincarnated as another dog.
The good news is that watching the process, seeing a dog’s many lives unfold, can be quite a fun experience.
This movie is a poignant little tribute to the irresistible bond between people and their dogs, and the many ways our canine companions make our lives better.
Yes, it’s draggy at times, the story is one-note and the emotional moments sometimes cheesy. But watching the film is like adopting a mangy mutt from the local pound. You know there are probably better pets out there. You know it’s probably going to mess up sooner or later. But awww, it’s so cute, and tries so hard to please you, that you overlook its shortcomings.
Directed by Lasse Hallstrom, A Dog’s Purpose is the story of a dog (voiced by Josh Gad) and his many lives. The bulk of the film, however, is devoted to his life as Bailey, a golden retriever belonging to all-American kid Ethan (K.J. Apa).
They say a dog’s life is a hard one, but Bailey has a relatively good existence, bonding with Ethan and the people around him. Yes, problems do occur, most in the form of Ethan’s alcoholic father (Luke Kirby), but there’s nothing a boy and his dog can’t overcome.
As time passes, however, the two have to part, and Bailey is soon reincarnated: he goes through a series of lives, including Ellie, a female German Shepherd who is a police dog, and Tino, a cute little Corgi. All through this, he wonders, and eventually discovers, what his purpose in life is.
The makers of this film recently found themselves in the doghouse after a video leaked, which showed a German Shepherd allegedly forced into rushing water during the making of this film.
Several groups, including Peta, called for a boycott of the movie, but The American Humane Organization has since come out to say that the footage had been deliberately edited to mislead the public. So, audiences can watch it with a clear conscience, at least.
The cast generally does a good job throughout the film. The human actors are decent, particularly John Ortiz, who plays a police officer assigned to Ellie, and Dennis Quaid as an elderly Ethan.
And as expected, the canine cast is adorable. We should warn you, those watching with small children will probably have to face unending requests to adopt one of the breeds of dog featured in the film.
Story-wise, however, the film goes to the dogs. Bailey is an odd character: he’s portrayed as simple-minded and playful, unable to understand simple human concepts.
Yet, he is also this philosophical creature who spends much of his time contemplating existentialism. It’s an odd combination of quirks, but for a dog, it somewhat works.
Most of the plot is also predictable and lacking in much conflict. The only parts with real drama comes from Bailey’s life as a police dog (which frankly, should be worth its own movie), which comes at the film’s midway point.
The rest of the movie is devoted to the usual canine cuteness, which results in a very, very suspense-free second half.
And another warning. This film pulls out all the stops to make you feel; no music is too overblown, no reunion is too sentimental, as it showers you with touching moment after touching moment.
Expect to empty your tear ducts at least once during the movie.
All in all, the film can be a little rough (ruff!) around the edges, but it has its charms. It’s definitely more “awww” than awful, best enjoyed with family or in the company of dog lovers!
A Dog’s Purpose
Director: Lasse Hallstrom
Cast: Josh Gad (voice), Dennis Quaid, K.J. Apa, Britt Robertson