A Dog’s Purpose is a typical dog movie — great for the whole family, full of adorable puppies, but lacking in anything that sets it apart. The film is based on the best-selling novel by W. Bruce Cameron and features a cast of well known actors. Rising star Britt Robertson, best known for her work in Disney’s Tomorrowland, is Hannah, Dennis Quaid plays Ethan and Josh Gad voices the dogs.
The actors play relatively one-dimensional characters, leaving plenty of room for the narration by the dog to drive the story. The story follows one dog across its several lives. After a brief life as a puppy, the dog returns as a red retriever named Bailey, who grows up with Ethan, a kid facing social and family troubles. The next lives are spent as a German shepherd police dog and a cute corgi before wrapping up as a mixed breed. Throughout all the dogs’ lives, the narration keeps the same confusing yet cute and positive tone. While the movie would essentially be a montage of dog scenes without the narration, it may have been better than the eternally positive voice, which didn’t reflect the struggle of the journey to discover the meaning of life or the struggles each dog faced.
The movie put the dogs in many situations that are not representative of appropriate dog ownership. The life spent as a corgi was filled by eating pizza, ice cream and other junk food, while the life after that began with the dog being chained in the yard. Both of these situations are dangerous and unhealthy for dogs, demonstrating poor examples of animal care and contradicting the film’s portrayal of a happy-go-lucky dog’s life.
The film had issues with treatment of dogs off-screen as well. Before the release, footage of Hercules, a German shepherd used in the production of the movie, being lowered into the water and later struggling to keep his head up while swimming, went viral, causing a call to protest the film from PETA and a third-party investigation of the incident. Any film dedicated to showing happy lives of animals should not have issues caring for those animals in real life.
The incident raised ire in many people, but it can’t compete with the intense emotional barrage audiences face in A Dog’s Purpose. The best scene in the film is the second death, when Bailey passes away. As anyone who has owned a pet knows, there are hundreds of good days, but one horrible one. Bailey is old, sick and must be put down. The film captures the difficulty of saying goodbye to a beloved friend. This is when the actors and the voice of the dog are at their most effective, all representing what it is like to lose a pet.
However, the other dog deaths lack the same emotional intensity. Each life becomes less detailed, so the audience becomes less attached and the dogs have the same voice and thoughts, diminishing the sense of loss. The film would have been more impactful if each life had been given as much meaning.
The film also fails to bring forth the appropriate impact of finding out life’s purpose. Because there are religious undertones throughout the film when the dog reincarnates and searches for life’s purpose, the effects should have been felt more strongly by the audience. Instead, it fell flat, as the lighthearted nature strayed from the depth the undertones required. The film may have been remembered more fondly if the comedy didn’t drown out the entire purpose of the movie.
Overall, A Dog’s Purpose is a great feel-good film for the whole family and a nice memento for people who wish to celebrate the life and loss of their dog. However, the rest of the film will fall into the category of cute movies that are just okay. For a better experience, read the book.
Contact CU Independent Arts Staff Writer Stephanie Wood at firstname.lastname@example.org.