Film Review: ‘A Dog’s Purpose’

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Divij Mahajan, Staff Writer

Rating: 2/5

Big studio movies about pet dogs, and not the ones in which a pet is simply a minor plot point or inciting incident such as John Wick or Meet the Parents, can usually hope to make a huge amount of money, regardless of who or what else is in the movie. My Dog Skip, Good Boy! and even Marmaduke are all great examples, and the most recent major movie about a loyal companion, the Marine PTSD drama Max, made $42 million domestically. If you were to add stars, you can get as high as Marley and Me which had major actors like Owen Wilson, Jennifer Aniston and a cute poster puppy benefitted it to a gain of $242 million internationally, even though there were some upset fans spoiling the sad ending. Even Hotel for Dogs, which was a movie that was debatable okay, had Don Cheadle and Emma Roberts and pulled off a sizeable $73 million domestic.

Dennis Quaid is the only majorly well known actor seen onscreen in the film that came out on January 27th 2017, ‘A Dog’s Purpose’. It has a  trailer that pretty much spoils the ending of the movie and has indicated to everyone that Dennis’s character only shows up near the end. A part that was less publicized has been Josh Gad’s role as the narrator/lead dog’s inner monologue but only if kids recognize that the voice of Olaf the snowman is now an adorable puppy.  This star’s turn may lead to a shot at serious money, but even in a worst-case scenario, it looks like a safe bet to double its reported budget ($22 million).  he controversy over a possibly and probably misleadingly edited video leaked on TMZ, which supposedly depicted a dog forced to get in water it didn’t want to go in, could derail things to a horrible extent.

Anyway, for what it’s worth, the end spoiler/Dennis Quaid reveal isn’t really an issue. This is a movie that easily announces its intentions right from the beginning, and it is no terrible idea for it. In the end, though, this movie broke me; I can’t imagine the tsunami of tears it’ll induce in actual dog owners.

‘A Dog’s Purpose’ starts with a bold and risky move, which it probably something  we need more of: it introduces us to a cute newborn litter of puppies, has one quickly grow up, and then…whisked off to the pound and put to death. It sounds terrible when written down like that, but Gad’s voice on the narrative lets us know that this is not the end: he is that dog, and he reincarnates every time he dies. This plot point initially seems like an immunization shot, so we don’t have to worry if this is one of those movies where the dog dies in the end, but it later turns out not to be, once you realize this movie is going to kill off the same lovable dog again and again and again.

The dead pup comes back as Bailey, a dog rescued by the mother of a young boy named Ethan (Bryce Gheisar, and later KJ Apa) in 1962, which we know because a newspaper mentioning the Cuban Missile Crisis is prominently seen. You’re not here for the subtlety, as every human character besides Ethan is depicted with a single characteristic, and sometimes without even the benefit of a name. Dad has to be a bitter drunk, Mom must be a generic sweet mom, there’s even a perfect girlfriend named Hannah, aka a ‘classic family’, etc. No, what you’re here for is Bailey’s take on things: what he understands, what he doesn’t (teens making out must be looking for food in each other’s mouths, he surmises), and those sweet, sweet dog POV shots of running through fields and after chickens.

Ethan grows from a happy-go-lucky kid reading Spiderman comics to a bitter young man who has to give up a football scholarship due to industry, and he’s away at agricultural school when Bailey, like everyone else, succumbs to old age. This begins a new series of reincarnations, with, again, single-characteristic cliches: first a widowed cop; second, a college girl who’s dangerously en route to becoming a crazy pet lady; and third, a couple with broken-down furniture littering their front yard. Throughout it all, it becomes clear that the movie’s notion of a dog’s purpose is to magically play matchmaker, because according to them being single sucks and marriage is the goal…unless you’re being abused. However, you’ll only be abused by the ‘irritable people who drink beer and don’t like dogs’, so that’s your warning. In all honesty, this movie tries extremely hard to be deep, yet it isn’t.

Now, there is a difference between not having a deeper meaning and not having a memorable and emotional impact on your audience. On the off chance you’re not aware how it all ends, I won’t spoil that here the way the trailers have, except to say it will take a hard-hearted person indeed not to feel moved. What matters most in A Dog’s Purpose is that the dogs are all perfect and cute and adorable, and Gad’s narration is full of the kind of happy, upbeat enthusiasm you’d expect and need from your best four-legged friend.

Not many controversial scenes from the movie are included, and the producers and filmmakers did a fine job making it emotional and touching rather than a film to rouse an argument. As for that scene of the dog jumping into water that’s causing controversy, what’s most apparent in the movie version is that it is obvious to the naked eye that the water is warm (steaming, even), and the shots taken underwater are clearly in a controlled tank. In all likelihood the “steams” were made more obvious just so audiences wouldn’t worry too much. The producers, directors, and Dennis Quaid himself stated for multiple interviews and news articles that there was absolutely no animal abuse in the movie whatsoever. And while animal rights groups such as PETA may object to any animal being used in a movie ever, I do agree with producer Gavin Polone that this is clearly a movie made by dog lovers to, in part, help kids learn to love them too.