One look at this one and already I have my doubts that it’ll be a good movie. So this story is about a dog that goes through multiple lifetimes trying to figure out his purpose in life. Um… look, I love dogs as much as the next guy, but they’re not self-aware animals. Granted, this movie doesn’t look like it’s supposed to have some deep insight into the “psyche” of a dog’s mind and just be cutsie and emotional. I have to say though, it’s refreshing to see an animal movie that doesn’t have the dogs move their mouths, harking back to the good ole days of HOMEWARD BOUND (1993).
But it’s probably best to talk about the controversy behind the film. For those of you that haven’t seen it, TMZ uncovered a video on the set of the film and released it to the public. It depicts a German-Shepherd named Hercules being forced against its will into rushing water by its trainer. Here’s the footage itself. WARNING: it’s disturbing.
PETA caught wind of the footage and quickly called for a boycott on the film, specifically targeting Bird & Animals Unlimited, the animal supplier for the film. To my understanding, this specific company has come under fire multiple times in the past. The producers and the director of the film have released statements about how horrified they were about it and have launched an investigation, supported by actors Dennis Quaid (who helped PETA call for the boycott) and Josh Gad. Articles will be listed below.
On a personal level, I love animals. I love dogs. I’m allergic as hell to them, but I grew up with pugs. So I am absolutely outraged by the actions of these trainers and their carelessness. But I won’t lie and say that I’m not at least slightly relieved to know that both the makers of the film as well as the actors starring in it have not only proverbially called for heads, but even the support the boycott. So I find it difficult to condemn the entire film.
I did highly debate whether or not to review it, financially support it or anything, not give it exposure of any kind that might encourage anyone to see it, but because of so many forces at work taking the proper measures to right wrongs, I feel like some merit should be acknowledged. It could have been ignored completely, which would have been a whole lot worse. So I decided to see it.
Let’s take a look at the cast. Lending his voice to the various dogs featured is Gad. I admit to not being fully aware of his career. My intro to him was in the animated Disney film, FROZEN (2013). I never saw THE WEDDING RINGER (2015), but I did see the critically panned PIXELS (2015), to which I thought he was a genuine saving grace. I know the film was bad, but I do have to admire his energy and enthusiasm. I think I enjoy the man himself, and I’m open to more of his work, but he’s definitely not my favorite funny man. Alongside him will be Quaid (PANDORUM , THE ROOKIE , and FREQUENCY ) and Brit Robertson (MR. CHURCH , TOMORROWLAND , and CAKE , and the upcoming THE SPACE BETWEEN US ).
Now for the crew. Directing is Lasse Hallström, known for THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY (2014), CASANOVA (2005), and WHAT’S EATING GILBERT GRAPE (1993). How’s this for a gigantic neon red flag, this movie has five writers: W. Bruce Cameron, Cathryn Michon, Audrey Wells, Maya Forbes, and Wally Wolodarsky. Wolodarsky is making his debut (Congrats, sir.), but everyone else is fairly seasoned. Cameron and Michon previously worked on a movie called MUFFIN TOP: A LOVE STORY (2014), but Michon is a tad more seasoned writing for television. Wells is known for UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN (2003), GEORGE OF THE JUNGLE (1997), and THE TRUTH ABOUT CATS & DOGS (1996). Finally, Forbes is known for INFINITELY POLAR BEAR (2014), MONSTERS VS. ALIENS (2009), and THE ROCKER (2008). Dear God, this will definitely be a bad movie, won’t it? Composing the music is Rachel Portman, known for RACE (2016), THE LAKE HOUSE (2006), and BENNY & JOON (1993). Finally, the cinematographer is Terry Stacey, known for ELVIS & NIXON (2016), TAKE ME HOME TONIGHT (2011), and ADVENTURELAND (2009).
Overall, I think this movie, controversy aside, is going to be a disaster as far as the writing is concerned. The premise isn’t very interesting, but the talent in front of the camera is. Probably won’t be good, so not really looking forward to it.
This is my honest opinion of: A DOG’S PURPOSE
The story follows the inner voice of Bailey the dog (voiced by Josh Gad). His first life is when he was saved by a eight-year-old boy named Ethan (Bryce Gheisar). Accepted into the family, Bailey and Ethan become great friends. Things only got better when Ethan became a teenager (K.J. Apa) and he met his girlfriend Hannah (Brit Robertson), whom also got along with Bailey really well. But one night, after getting a scholarship to college, a jealous teammate accidentally burns down his house and Ethan becomes injured, unable to play the game. The causes a rift in his relationship with Hannah and soon, Bailey becomes old and eventually passes away. The amazing thing is that he comes back as a German-Shepard and becomes a K9 police dog, continuing the process of passing away and coming back, asking questions about his own existence and why he’s here.
I don’t hate this movie. I know, a lot of the current ratings on sites like IMDb (3.8/10 as of 2/2/2017) and RottenTomatoes (33% as of 2/2/2017), and most likely because of that video, but objectively speaking, I don’t think it’s that bad. Is it anything new or fresh, no, but if you wanted to bring your kids to see a movie about dogs doing dog things, then it’s pretty harmless.
I don’t really buy into this animal asking questions about its purpose in life, as it seems to act like a regular dog, instead of a self aware creature. Having said that, Gad is surprisingly restrained in his voice-work. Usually, I associate him with a big and loud voice that has usually rubbed me the wrong way, but I like him here. He sounds like he’s trying to work with what he’s given and he does a decent job. It’s his best work as far as his voice is concerned in my opinion. But setting that aside, it’s still pretty silly as a concept.
There’s not a whole lot of significant conflict, at least not during the scenes involving Ethan and Bailey. It’s all pretty “kid movie” if you know what I mean. Jeez, it basically goes full BEETHOVEN (1992); dog is loved by the kid and the mother, but the dad is bothered by it. Yeah, it’s about as phoned in as it gets. It’s not that interesting and your interest hinges entirely on how invested you feel in Ethan and Bailey’s relationship. I personally was, so I didn’t mind so much. I fancy myself a kid at heart and it’s hard for me to not like a Labrador, so I was entertained enough. Investment may vary, though.
The same kind of goes for when he’s a teen and how much you care about Hannah’s character. Personally, I thought they had solid chemistry. They were a cute couple, I like how Hannah reacted to Bailey, it was nicely done. Again, no real conflict until Ethan’s injury, and that get’s pretty cliché. They break up because he thinks he can’t offer anything to her anymore. It’s as painful as it sounds. But Robertson’s performance is pretty heart-breaking as she says goodbye to Bailey. So it’s not cripplingly painful.
Now I’m not giving anything away here as it’s revealed in the trailer, Bailey dies and it’s pretty sad. Yeah, even though I knew it was coming, I believed in the emotions being portrayed on screen and… I cried. Shut it! It’s hard to see a loved and happy dog pass on!
So when he gets resurrected into another dog, the tone definitely shifts 180 degrees. It’s done… fine, I suppose. It suddenly becomes a crime thriller about Bailey, now named Ellie, and his new owner Carlos (John Ortiz) hunt down criminals, and Carlos isn’t as loving toward Ellie. There’s a few issues that I have here. First off, if Bailey is now a female, why isn’t she voiced by a female voice? Is it supposed to be for comedic relief? Because the comedy isn’t built up. It’s lame to me. But fine, I dealt with it. I think if I had any real complaint, and I think it’s a pretty big one, Bailey complains too much that this life wasn’t much fun. There’s an acknowledgement that the life was full of good work, but… damn, Ellie saved a life, brought criminals to justice, it shouldn’t be about fun, it’s about purpose. The very thing that’s been sought this entire movie. It downplays the great work that other dogs in that life do and I feel like that’s showing a little too much disrespect.
Once again, while Ellie’s life was pretty dramatic and even violent, this goes pretty laid back when Ellie becomes Titto. Titto’s life is all about his owner, Maya (Kirby Howell-Baptiste) feeding her dog some unhealthy food like pizza and potato chips. It’s actually pretty creepy when she says something like, “Why can’t you be my boyfriend?” to her dog. It’s awkward. But it is pretty cute when Maya gets married and has kids that chase a little corgie around. And there’s some pretty funny jabs at how corgie legs are barely legs and the malnutrition in the animal. While I would say there’s an underlying outrage about feeding dogs food that could be hazardous to their health, there is an acknowledgement when the dog’s health is addressed and needs to get some exercise, which Maya does attempt to do. So… lessons learned, I guess.
Of course, the stars align when Bailey comes back as and finds his way back to Ethan when he’s an adult (Dennis Quaid). Again, the connection is nice enough, but it still gets pretty out there as far as Bailey trying to convince Ethan that he is the original Bailey in a new dog-body and succeeds. While I could dig deeper than I need to in this kids movie, I could say something about… is Bailey unique? Why aren’t other dogs doing something like this? Why does Bailey only resurrect in America, as opposed to… any other country in the world, but as I said, this is a kids movie and it’s probably best not to read into it too much.
I think I made it clear pretty early on that this shouldn’t be taken too seriously. While some segments don’t hold up as well as others, it’s still a harmless kids movie. It certainly hit the right emotional notes for me, but maybe I’m bias toward my love of dogs. I sure don’t condone what happened behind the scenes, but thankfully, neither did many other forces that made this movie, and justice was served for the most part. The story isn’t anything new or ground-breaking, but it’s a serviceable story… again, for the most part. There’s stuff to enjoy and it did get me in parts where it counted. Some things were done right, some not so much. Take it for what you will.
My honest rating for A DOG’S PURPOSE: 3/5