Movies about pets or involving pets, such as cats or dogs, are special in that they allow us to connect almost immediately with our main characters. Humans have a tendency to put on a facade in front of other humans, depending on how they are feeling that day; but with a pet, that human just lets it all hang out. Whatever emotion or thought that enters a pet owner’s mind is suddenly shared without pretense because they know they that they won’t be judged, they won’t be ridiculed, and sometimes just speaking out loud helps to resolve lingering problems. Someone who doesn’t like having a pet may confide in a best friend or an online forum. Either of these may yield the same therapeutic results, but I’d wager that the comfort of a pet that expects nothing in return, besides a treat, and shares an eternal bond with its owner will make that person healthier, live longer, and appreciate life beyond its mundane trivialities. I struggle with the idea of owning a pet myself as I would prefer all animals enjoy the world as much as I can, but if you are able to give that animal a good, safe home and show him or her the love and respect they so desperately crave, then by all means do so.
In A Dog’s Purpose, directed by Lasse Hallstrom, a puppy named Bailey (Josh Gad) is born and raised in the 1960’s. He does not enjoy being caged and is a curious wanderer, which is how he meets Ethan, a young boy and Bailey’s first real owner. Ethan’s parents are on opposite sides of the argument when it comes to keeping Bailey, but eventually he becomes part of the family. Ethan and Bailey are inseparable and grow up together. The interesting part of this story is that we get to hear what Bailey is thinking and feeling throughout all of this. He is learning about the world the way a child would and making just as many mistakes along the way. He misinterprets interactions with his family and thinks it’s always time to play or eat, but he also develops intuition and learns when to comfort them and keep them safe. As time passes, and several milestones in Ethan’s life transpire, Bailey suddenly dies. His consciousness, however, lives on when he is unexpectedly reborn as a puppy again and taken in by a new owner. As Bailey, or whichever name his owners call him in his multiple lives, moves through time, he begins to learn what it really means to be a dog.
If I was to give the simplest impression of this film, I would say it is cute, lighthearted, and has a few tearjerker moments. It is not a movie with an abundance of depth. It moves in segments, or vignettes, and tells each dog’s story, all voiced by Josh Gad, in different homes and with different families; but other than that first story, you really don’t get a lot of time to immerse yourself in the owners’ lives. I know this is being told from the perspective of the dog, who is adorable every time, but many of his scenes are just truncated moments and are sometimes played for comedic effect. It isn’t until the final scene of each dog’s life that you are expected to feel something significant. I don’t believe this movie is intended to be a comedy, but most of the dog’s lines come off that way. It’s almost like Look Who’s Talking Now, but with slightly higher stakes.
If I wasn’t so enamored by Josh Gad’s portrayal of each puppy, I don’t think I would have very many positive things left to say about this film. Even if you aren’t a dog lover, you have to appreciate the loving interactions between a boy and his dog, or a college student and her dog, or a cop and his K-9. The heart and soul of this movie rests on the shoulders of these little guys. I just wish the rest of the movie had more to offer.
While this movie does portray death, it does so in a way that isn’t overt or graphic. The transitions from one puppy to the next are quite tranquil and involve some colorful imagery. So if you are worried about letting your children see this, maybe watch it by yourself and then decide if they are old enough to understand and handle it.
A Dog’s Purpose isn’t a masterpiece, but it doesn’t need to be. If you are easily taken in by stories of dogs doing charming and amazing things, all while voiced by Josh Gad, then this movie will warm your heart and make you appreciate that furry friend you cuddle up to at night. The story needed a stronger base and more character development. Some actors did better jobs than others, but I place that problem on the uneven script. Boyhood would be a comparable example of how a story moves through time to tell brief moments in someone’s life, but still manages to enhance the supporting characters and strengthen their presence. Granted A Dog’s Purpose has other intentions and doesn’t want to draw focus from it’s primary character; but when all the attention is drawn towards that first story, then make that your whole movie. Otherwise you’ve just taken us on an inventive, but unnecessary detour.
A Dog’s Purpose:
About A Dog’s Purpose
Synopsis: A dog looks to discover his purpose in life over the course of several lifetimes and owners.
Director: Lasse Hallstrom
Writers: W. Bruce Cameron, Cathryn Michon, Audrey Wells, Maya Forbes, Wally Wolodarsky
Stars: Josh Gad, Dennis Quaid, Peggy Lipton, Bryce Gheisar, K.J. Apa, Britt Robertson
Runtime: 1 Hour, 40 Minutes