A Dog’s Journey is directed by Gail Mancuso. The film stars Josh Gad, Dennis Quaid, Marg Helgenberger, Betty Gilpin, Kathryn Prescott, Abby Ryder Fortson, Ian Chen, and Henry Lau. The film is the sequel to A Dog’s Purpose, both of which are based on books by W. Bruce Cameron.
Ethan and Hannah live on a farm with their daughter Gloria and Gloria’s daughter CJ, as well as their dog Bailey, who has died but reincarnated many times to care for Ethan. When the distraught Gloria takes her daughter and moves to the city to find work as a performer, Ethan tells his ailing dog to look out for CJ when he reincarnates again. Over the years, the growing CJ has several encounters with dogs which are the reincarnated Bailey, who always seems to guide her and be looking over her, resulting in her reunion with a childhood friend in the big city years after leaving her own abusive mother behind. But will CJ be able to overcome her stage fright and succeed as a performer, and will she ever reunite with her parents and grandparents?
Writing a plot synopsis for A Dog’s Journey is a challenge because of the unconventional structure which revolves around a dog’s perspective and voiceover, which is provided by Josh Gad. It’s the sequel to A Dog’s Purpose (which I never saw) but standalone enough you don’t need to have seen the previous installment.
So, how does it measure up?
Essentially, the film is well cast, and features many lovable dogs and a solid enough cast which includes the like of Dennis Quaid (I Can Only Imagine, Jaws 3) and Abby Ryder Fortson (Ant-Man, Forever My Girl). The “dog’s perspective” one-liners are quite funny, but the gimmick and the same tired jokes does get old after a while. Many aspects of the movie are also too dark for a PG film, and some attempts at dramatic filmmaking feel rushed and underdeveloped.
As far as positives go, while it lasts, the premise is fun. We have a dog who was one man’s guardian angel of sorts, who’s been sent on a new journey to care for his granddaughter, who has been taken from him. Seeing the lengths our canine hero will go to is quite fun, and the one-liners are actually quite funny much of the time. The whole “narrative from the dog’s perspective” was nothing new even when the first film/story came out, though I won’t deny the premise is somewhat appealing.
While the movie tends to be more a starring attraction for its reincarnating canine, the human cast is surprisingly well picked out, including the always reliable Dennis Quaid, who’s relegated to a support role this time around. If nothing else, no one is miscast.
Unfortunately, other aspects of the movie don’t fare as well. Don’t get me wrong; Josh Gad voicing a dog and offering commentary and his own interpretations is quite funny. The problem is, the premise isn’t strong enough to carry a film which has a nearly two hour run time. Dog-centric jokes about tail chasing, sniffing, going to the bathroom, and tearing things up and biting people are good for a few giggles, but you can’t carry a whole movie on this premise, funny as it may be at first. The movie also can’t decide if it wants to be a tale of human drama or a comedic look at modern life from a dog’s point of view. It doesn’t quite succeed at either.
What really shocked me about this movie was some of the content which is far too dark for a PG-rated film. Generally speaking, a PG film should be one it’s appropriate to take the family to, with only mild objectionable content. But here we have a movie where a young girl has an abusive and negligent alcoholic as a mother, who in one scene even “victim shames” her daughter following a bad experience with a boy. And did I mention the boy in question is a violent stalker who engages in underage drinking and (literally) tries to chase her down? The screening I went to had several children in attendance, and I truly wonder how they felt seeing these plot points unfold. A handful of other elements like these show themselves throughout the movie, and it really makes me wonder why the MPAA didn’t give this film a PG-13 rating. A tale meant to empower young women and keep them away from abusive and negligent people is a good thing, but these elements go a little too far for one of the key target audiences. Apparently the source novel had some darker content which (thankfully) didn’t make it into the film, but these aspects which did still go too far for a PG movie.
There are other elements to the story which feel rushed and unnecessary, all leading up to a “happily ever after” ending. One subplot involves a character inflicted with a life-threatening illness, yet less than 10 minutes later he’s fully cured and it’s never mentioned again. CJ’s reunion with her estranged abusive mother is wrapped up in an all-too-tidy package which magically resolves itself. Because giving someone you abused keepsakes apparently makes things magically better. The movie tries tugging at our heartstrings, but doesn’t know when to let up. The filmmakers need to learn the meaning of the word “subtle.”
I liked certain elements of A Dog’s Journey, but it’s just not a good film. Cute dogs, Gad’s voiceover performance, and the cast are all good, but the movie tries to hard, including the insertion of content not appropriate for a PG film, and a rush to make everything end on a (mostly) happy note. If you’re curious, rent this one when it comes out on home viewing formats, but don’t go to the theater for it.
Rating: One-and-a-half stars out of four.
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