Review: A Dog's Purpose

Directed by: Lasse Hallström
Written by: W. Bruce Cameron, Cathryn Michon, Audrey Wells, Maya Forbes, Wally Wolodarsky
Starring: Dennis Quaid, Britt Robertson, Josh Gad, KJ Apa, Juliet Rylance, John Oritz
Released: May 4, 2017
Grade: C

A Dog's Purpose
A cat has nine lives but it seems it’s not the only animal to believe in reincarnation.  A Dog’s Purpose begins in the 1960s and follows a single dog and his adventures in the lead up to the current day.  Each time he passes away, he comes back in a new form with a different body.  What remains intact is his sharp mind.  He can remember all of his past lives and the people he came across.

The story given the most screen time is where a young boy named Ethan convinces his parents to adopt a Golden Retriever which he names Bailey.  Ethan grows up and the loyal Bailey remains forever by his side.  He sleeps is bed and they’re always playing a fun game of chase with a deflated gridiron ball.  In his next life, he comes back as a female German Shepherd and is trained to be a police dog.

It’s hard to work how who this film is pitched at given the very simple narrative.  The film touches on some heavy issues but given there are so many “lives” to cover, there isn’t the time to delve deeper.  As an example, Ethan’s father becomes an alcoholic and it threatens to break up the family.  It’s a serious subject but the writers seem to spend an equal amount of time following Bailey’s friendship with a donkey (that doesn’t talk).

Directed by Oscar-nominated Lasse Hallström (The Cider House Rules), this all adds up to a film with mixed tones that haven’t been blended correctly.  The opening scene is a good example.  In the dog’s first life, he is born, runs around a yard, is nabbed by a dogcatcher, and is then put to sleep.  This all happens within the space of a few minutes (so I’m not giving much away) but it’s a strange start.  Such a storyline could work but it’d be better placed in the middle of the film when we have a better appreciation of the character and what he stands for.

Make no mistake though – this is a film for dog lovers.  They’ve found the cutest dogs imaginable and continually put them in situations that will melt hearts.  The word “nawwwww” was uttered by several people in the audience at the preview screening I attended.  Josh Gad (Beauty and the Beast) provides the voice of the dog and also wins the audience over by speaking to us like a cute, naive child who doesn’t quite understand how the world works.

The title of the film touches upon the movie’s broad theme – what is the role of a dog in our world today?  It’s a good question but given the ridiculously corny and cheesy scenarios presented to the audience (such as a laughable kidnapping), I wasn’t convinced by the answers it presented.