Nutshell: sweet, sentimental, and capable of manipulating all the feels with Machiavellian aplomb, this film warms the heart yet seems to stay just out of reach of truly touching it. Still, cute doggies! And who doesn’t love a shameless kleenex movie from time to time? Grade: B-
“Um, where am I?”
Story: The soul of a dog goes through a lot. Including several lifetimes, a gender-swap, and of course, lots of love. Everybody say awwwww.
Genre I’d put it in: Animal-centric Tearjerker That Knows Full Well What It’s Doing
Remake, Sequel, Based-On, or Orignal: Based on the novel by W. Bruce Cameron, with echoes of “animal films” like The Incredible Journey, Benji, and Marley and Me.
Gotta say: I love dogs. Yeah, I’m a Cat Person, but can’t we all just get along? You show me a pup longing for a skritch, and I say you try to deny that bundle o’ fur. A Dog’s Purpose trades on that gut-level love of pooch, and runs with it. Runs it into the ground? Um, maybe a little bit? But Josh Gad’s voice-over narration keeps things light most of the time (more on that in a tic) and the ensemble cast is game enough to let the decade-by-decade story pass by amicably.
About these stories. A Dog’s Purpose plays out kind of like an anthology film. There’s the wrap-around, about a young boy who grows up with his beloved pooch…only to find a strangely similar dog on his front doorstep decades later. In-between are stories about a K-9 officer, a lonely co-ed, a woman who wants a puppy, but maybe not a dog…. Just one of these stories would have been enough to flesh out a film, but director Lasse Hallström (Chocolat, Salmon Fishing in Yemen) decides to beat viewers over the head with a whole lot of love, snuggles…and death.
Yeah, death. Because how’s that doggie gonna change from one pup to the next? You guessed it; by taking the Rainbow Bridge Express. So basically, don’t bring the little ones to this film, unless you’re really dying to make that check out to Therapy. In fact, the whole merry-go-round starts with a puppy who gets picked up and sent to the pound…roll those pretty sparkly reincarnation lights! Have fun telling your wee ones what happened there. Be prepared to sleep with them tonight.
There are a few unanswered questions I have, mostly regarding the humans in these stories. What happened to them after their beloved pooch died? I guess they just brushed themselves off and got the hell over it? Or were they despondent for the rest of their lives (one particular story seems destined to go that way), never knowing that “their” dog had been pining over his First Human all the while? Gives these other stories a less-than feel, except for that chick who only wanted a puppy. She and her horrible boyfriend can burn.
Did A Dog’s Purpose nail me right in the heart? Of course it did. It’s created to do just that, and the dogs are all 120% adorable. But it didn’t take up any valuable heart real estate; while I felt everything this film told me to, and even misted up a few times, this film’s purpose seems to be to drag you from feeling to feeling to feeling, without really digging in. It’s a very of-the-moment film, where you feel everything you’re supposed to exactly when you’re supposed to feel it, but then walk away with a bit of free space in your heart that this film should have claimed.
#Protip: You may have heard the animal abuse allegations. But star Dennis Quaid doesn’t think it was a problem (or he “would have walked”.) Perhaps Snopes will have the ultimate weigh-in on the matter, as more information comes to light.