Happy New Year, everybody! Hope everyone had a great one! Bonus brownie points if you stayed safe. Hope everyone’s geared up for the next 365 days and those New Years Resolutions that you’ll never commit to. Unless… you’re serious about that stuff, then go git ‘em, tiger! Show those resolutions who’s boss!
Wait, so… is this movie basically HOMEWARD BOUND, but one less dog?
The story looks like it takes place from a dog’s point of view. She lives a happy life with her owner, eventually gets lost, and makes a long journey back to her family.
Here’s the cast. Starring, we have Bryce Dallas Howard (JURASSIC WORLD  and 2 , GOLD , PETE’S DRAGON , TERMINATOR SALVATION , and the upcoming ROCKETMAN ), Jonah Hauer-King (stuff I’ve either never seen or heard of, and the upcoming ONCE UPON A TIME IN STATEN ISLAND ), and Ashley Judd (ALLEGIANT ).
In support, we have Alexandra Shipp (LOVE SIMON , X-MEN: APOCALYPSE , STRAIGHT/COMPTON , and upcoming films X-MEN: DARK PHOENIX  and SHAFT ), Edward James Olmos (COCO ), Wed Studi (HOSTILES , AVATAR , and the upcoming ROLLING THUNDER ), and Chris Bauer (SULLY , TOMORROWLAND , and the upcoming LIFE SUPPORT ).
Now for the crew. Directing, we have Charles Martin Smith, known for AIR BUD (1997). Co-writing the screenplay are Cathryn Michon (A DOG’S PURPOSE ) and the author of the novel this movie is adapting, W. Bruce Cameron (A DOG’S PURPOSE). Composing the score is Mychael Danna, known for ON THE BASIS OF SEX (2018), MAN/CHRISTMAS (2017), STORKS (2016), GOOD DINOSAUR (2015), and upcoming films THE RED SEA DIVING RESORT (2019) and GUEST OF HONOUR (2019). The cinematographer is Peter Menzies Jr., known for PETER RABBIT (2018), EYEZ/ME (2017), GODS OF EGYPT (2016), EXPENDABLES 3 (2014), INCREDIBLE HULK (2008), and DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE (1995). Finally, making a grand total of three editors, we have David S. Clark (FIFTY SHADES FREED ), Debra Neil-Fisher (SHADES FREED, TRANSFORMERS 5 , and GRIMSBY ), and Sabrina Plisco (SHOW DOGS  and DOCTOR STRANGE ).
No, seriously, how wrong am I about the HOMEWARD BOUND comparison? This dog is traveling with a cat, or rather a mountain lion, which was a brief villain in HOMEWARD. Also, I feel like I don’t need to see this movie, as the trailer seems to give it all away. Not that this movie was really going to have a bunch of twists and turns that would change the face of how family adventure films are done, but still… if this bombs at the box office, the trailer is going to be the reason why.
This is my honest opinion of: A DOG’S WAY HOME
Set in Colorado. Bella (voiced by Bryce Dallas Howard), a Pit Bull, puppy started life living under an abandoned, run-down house with her siblings and some cats. However, animal control took her siblings, her mom, and a bunch of other cats to the local pound, leaving the others. Despite still being taken care of by her new cat-mom, Bella eventually decides to go home with the only human who treated her and the other animals with kindness, a young man named Lucas (Jonah Hauer-King), who brought her home to live with him and his mother, Terri (Ashley Judd) and lives a wonderful life playing games. However, in the state of Colorado, Pit Bulls are illegal, but animal control can’t take Bella so long as she’s on private property, but have every legal right to detain her if she’s seen outside of the house, leash or not. After a mishap, the plan is to give Bella to someone to watch after her until the laws are changed and then take her back. Bella is taken far away, but doesn’t understand that she’s going to see Lucas soon and ends up running away to where she believes is home, which is a long trek through the wilderness where many dangers await.
Mmph, okay, so I’m not calling a good movie, but I will call it a cute movie, which is all this is.
I’ll start with some legit positives. Seeing Ashley Judd in a movie is always a treat… unless she’s in a pandering Christian movie, then it’s squandered talent, but whatever. Judd is arguably the best part of this movie, bringing a surprising amount of heart and drama without going too dark. Terri is a war veteran who is struggling with depression, but as soon as Bella comes into the picture, things seem to lighten up for her. This is especially satisfying when Bella is brought to the clinic where they treat other veterans of the armed forces suffering from the same thing. Honestly, seeing them all interact with Bella is nice and I would say that this is where the emotions are at their strongest in the film. But more than that, she has truly awesome scenes where she intimidates two of the movie’s resident bad guys. One by standing up to him and making him think twice, and the other guy by literally grabbing his wrist and holding in place, seemingly without effort, despite him trying to escape her grasp. It’s borderline superhero stuff and I loved those two scenes.
And while I’ll complain about her later (sort of), Dallas Howard does bring an infectious, likability in voicing Bella. Admittedly, I did get a few chuckles at how her narrations feel exact to a dog’s mentality. And thank God that this movie doesn’t feature the animals with moving mouths. The CGI always looks awful when they do that, so I’m happy that’s never the case here.
However, I can’t keep up with the compliments forever. This movie has some major problems, even for a kids film.
The biggest and most consistent problem that I had was Dallas Howard’s narrations. Don’t get me wrong, I love the woman and will likely pay to see every one of her movies, if only for the hope that she gets the recognition that she deserves. With that said, and this is obviously not Howard’s fault, the narrations are completely unnecessary. Believe it or not, the movie does a fine enough job of showing character motivations and conveying emotions without the movie constantly hammering in that those motivations and emotions are. I promise, take out the narrating and the movie will flow just fine. And despite the fact that no animal mouths move, I still prefer HOMEWARD BOUND. At least with that movie, the animals spoke to each other, so their voice overs mattered. Here, it’s a single dog who never truly communicates with another animal, other than simply translating their barks.
And let’s really sit down and talk about the HOMEWARD BOUND comparisons. There are SO MANY! The structure is almost down to a tee. Like Shadow, Chance, and Sassy, Bella goes to a faraway location, treated nicely, but ultimately has a need to go home by JUMPING OVER A FENCE and then running through a large open field to a destination that she thinks is closer than really is. And this is just where the plot starts kicking off. Bella ends up in a pound, a journey through a virtually endless she has an encounter with a wild, predatory feline, she gets injured toward the end of the film, it’s just way too similar on so many levels. Just make the pound scene happen toward the beginning of the film and make the vicious wild feline another protagonist and it’s got some structure similarities.
Not that I know how difficult it is to train a cougar, but… was it really so hard to get a live cougar on set? I mean, I’ve seen Russian folks have PET cougars. Let me say that again, PET cougars. And they get along with other animals. Seriously, a CGI cougar? I mean, okay, legalities and safety issues exist, but it’s just so painfully obvious that the cougar was CGI. If you couldn’t get a real one, just write out the “character” altogether. I’m sure it couldn’t have been that hard to go full MILO AND OTIS and just randomly have Bella find a cute boy-dog to have puppies with and bring home to Lucas. Hey, when she meets Dutch, it very easily could have gone in that direction. The point is, there’s ways to write around this and could have saved money on pointless CGI. Honestly, the only way I could possibly think of to rectify this and make the CGI useful is by editing out all the wagging tails in scenes where the dogs are supposed to be sad. From the dogs in the pound, to Bella being separated from Big Kitten, the wagging tails really are a distraction. The only way to solve the problem would be to literally make sad CG tails. I’ll leave it up to you to decide how useful that truly is.
Oh, and this movie gets creepily dark. Uncharacteristically dark. So Bella happens upon a homeless dude, named Axel, played by Edward James “I used to be Admiral Adama” Olmos, who sort of just takes her and they go out into the woods where he lives and… he dies. He tied her to him and he dies. She is also literally inches away from a river and is unable to drink it, all because this jerk-wad of a homeless guy had to tie her up to his waist. Look, I won’t pretend to know if the guy knew he was going to die or not, but there’s something particularly cruel about tying a dog to you next to water that it can’t get to. And if that wasn’t bad enough, kids discover Bella and the body. Jeez, movie! Tone-deaf, much?!
Here’s a list of smaller issues I took with the flick.
- Did Lucas offer Bella cheese in that exact same tone and vocal inflections every single time? Who does that?
- How old is Bella? How has she never seen snow? In Colorado?
- Why is this movie bothering with subtitling the cities that Bella visits on her journey home? I don’t exactly have a map on me, and despite being born in Denver, Colorado, I don’t know the geography of the state, nor am I going to figure it out when I get home.
- Not since YOGI BEAR (2010) have I seen a more terrible use of the Wilhelm Scream.
- How dumb do you have to be to take off the collar of the stray dog? This movie realizes that half the reason why Bella is constantly lost is because the humans around her are either extremely stupid, or awful people who want her for themselves without looking for her original owner.
- If Mr. Kurch (Chris Bauer) never wanted Dutch in the first place, why did he have the dog at all?
Overall, I can’t say that I like this movie. I mean, like I said, it’s cute. If all you want to see is a cute dog be a cute dog, then you’ll get your money’s worth. But honestly, all I’m reminded of is that this movie reminds me way too much of both HOMEWARD BOUND and MILO AND OTIS. Sure, those movies were corny too, but HOMEWARD BOUND’s darker and more dramatic moments felt like they carried real weight to their stories and really gave us some insight to the animals’ personalities. And MILO AND OTIS had a pug fight a bear… and win! You don’t get more awesome than that! This movie… I don’t know. It’s harmless enough. Kids can certainly watch it and get some entertainment value out of it. There was one kid in the audience who certainly did. But as an adult, I’ve seen better dog films that felt more plausible than what we got here. Sure, even those aren’t perfect, but I feel like they tried harder to be bigger and more epic. This is trying to be that, but throwing in CGI that wasn’t needed. As a recommendation, sure, if you’re desperate for a family movie night and your kid wants to see this, it’s fine enough for that. But personally, like I said, HOMEWARD BOUND and MILO AND OTIS are superior.
My honest rating for A DOG’S WAY HOME: a weak 3/5
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