A Dog’s Purpose

Director: Lasse Hallstrom
Starring: Dennis Quaid, Britt Robertson, Josh Gad, KJ Apa, and Juliet Rylance
Distributor: Entertainment One Films
Runtime: 100 mins. Reviewed in May 2017
| JustWatch |
Rating notes: Mild themes

This American adventure, comedy-drama tracks a dog that is reincarnated several times from the 1950s through to the 2000s. The dog keeps its original personality and memories for different owners, and comes back as different breeds and gender.

The film is based on the bestselling 2010 novel of the same name, written by W. Bruce Cameron, who is also a co-writer of the film. The four dogs in the film are voiced by Josh Gad, who narrates the movie on the life (or lives) of a beloved dog.

The film begins with a puppy, named Toby who is euthanised in a dog pound, an event that starts a series of reincarnations that take the viewer from dog to dog, and from owner to owner. The list of reincarnations is impressive. Toby comes back as a Golden Retriever puppy, named Bailey, who is locked by his owner in a hot pick-up truck before being rescued by a young boy named Ethan (KJ Apa) and his mother (Juliet Rylance). Bailey later saves Ethan from a burning house and after dying of old age is reincarnated as Ellie, a female German Shepherd dog. Ellie partners a widowed police Officer, Carlos (John Ortiz), who works for the Chicago Police Department. She is fatally shot while protecting her master, and is reincarnated as Tino, a Welsh Corgi, who lives a happy life with his Mistress, before finally coming back as Waffles, a Bernese Mountain Dog. Waffles is treated poorly by his new owners, and escapes from their harshness to find Ethan, now a grown man. Finally, Bailey and Ethan have re-connected.

The process of reconnection is tricky. Waffles, four times re-incarnated, recognises the scent of Ethan who realises that his beloved Bailey has returned to him and Ethan names his new dog, Buddy. Ethan realises Buddy is his former dog, when Buddy responds as Bailey did years before to tricks he taught him. Reunited, Bailey knows at last he has “discovered his (true) purpose in life.”

This film is highly suited to dog lovers and tugs sentimentally and melodramatically at viewers’s emotions by exposing them to the good and bad of how owners treat their dogs. It stretches the plotline too far when it tries to show how a reincarnated dog learns over time to reunite his master with a former girlfriend (Britt Robertson), and it mixes human adventure with canine escapades with some difficulty. There is violence and abuse when humans appear, but the film is positive and uplifting when it keeps its focus on dogs, looking for love from their owners.

The humans in the film are almost accidental to the film’s plotline. Humans are present for plot machinations, but the animals prove themselves by their winning looks. This is a film for those who love dogs. Most of the dogs die, but reincarnation is there to soften the blow.

The film is essentially about the journey of devoted dogs who learn the meaning of life through special bonding with the people they want to protect. The key feature of dog devotion is what psychologists call ” unconditional positive regard”: no matter what an owner does, a dog is there to give him, or her, undivided attention and absolute devotion. What this movie achieves is such regard with absolutely no assistance at all from any computer-generated effects. That is what dog owners will love about the film.

The movie is scripted well and has good cinematography and editing. The film offers unsophisticated entertainment. It is very suitable for children and works particularly well as family entertainment, especially when it keeps its focus (almost entirely) on the dogs.

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