When a person heads to see a movie like A Dog’s Purpose, they know what they are walking into. This is a movie about dogs – or in this case one dog who reincarnates into different lives every time he dies. Your enjoyment of this movie all comes down to how you handle the death of a dog – over and over again.
Lasse Hallstrom, best known for dramas like Chocolat and The Cider House Rules, brings a light hand into this movie about a boy and his dog but he doesn’t hold back when it comes to damning those who treat dogs poorly. As a matter of fact, it is animal cruelty that starts off the entire movie. When two rednecks find the dog, they figure they can make some money selling it but then leave it in their truck in the heat of the day.
The dog is about to die when a woman and her son see it and the woman breaks out the window, saving its life. The woman and her son take the dog in and name it Bailey, much to the chagrin of the boy’s father. The movie then goes into great detail of the boy (Ethan) growing into a teenager with the dog by his side as his closest companion. The parts of the movie with Ethan and his relationship with his father and girlfriend Hannah are important to the film, but they are then put on hold when Bailey dies of old age, believing that he failed Ethan by leaving him sad.
The movie then leads us through the various reincarnated lives of Bailey – as a German Shepherd K-9 named Ellie, a Pembroke Welsh Corgi named Tino, and an unnamed dog taken in by a girl, whose white trash boyfriend forces her to leave the dog chained up in their yard every day and night, regardless of the weather, never to play again. It is horrifying and each of these lives offers heartbreak to anyone who loves dogs.
A Dog’s Purpose is a movie that exists to show how important a dog is to the lives of the humans it lives with. However, when a movie gives you a dog’s death over and over again, and the effect the death has on its beloved owners, this movie stretches the compassion of dog lovers almost to a breaking point.
It is only when the white trash boyfriend takes the dog to a discreet location and is set free to die that things tie into the first story of the movie, as Bailey actually somehow finds Ethan once again. It is at this point of the story that things start to come clear as to what Bailey’s purpose in life was and why he had to continue to die and reincarnate, learning more and more about what his life even means.
The cast is pretty good, with K.J. Apa and Dennis Quaid both solid as playing a teenage and adult Ethan. Kirby Howell-Baptiste is also solid as Maya, the girl who cared for the dog in its life as Tino. Josh Gad, who is best known for crazy comic roles in movies like Pixels, was good as the voice of Bailey as well.
At the end of the day, A Dog’s Purpose is a movie that seems too heartbreaking and depressing to really recommend to dog lovers. My son, who is seven, was crying at four different times in the movie – once almost inconsolable because we have two dogs and this was too much for him. However, he said he was crying happy tears at the end and my wife loved it as well. I found myself through the middle half of the movie disliking it very much but the ending won me over.
A Dog’s Purpose isn’t great, but it is a movie that really shows how important dogs are in our lives and how people should cherish the time they have to spend with these loving pets, treating them with the respect they deserve considering the love they show us.