‘A Dog’s Purpose’ Takes Aim at the Waterworks
Move over Collateral Beauty, there’s another film that’s taken your crown of cynicism and sheer emotional manipulation. Lance Hallstrom’s A Dog’s Purpose is cloaked in a facade of a warm and cuddly exterior. But like the recent Will Smith holiday travesty, every emotion is played like a fiddle.
Based on the best-selling W. Bruce Cameron novel, A Dog’s Purpose spans over four decades, chronicling the life of a dog named Bailey (voiced by Josh Gad). Well, not exactly. When we first meet Bailey in the 1960’s, he is rescued from a neglectful owner, who leaves him for a long period of time in the heat. Ethan (Bryce Gheisar), the young boy who rescues him, takes him in as his own and the two form a bond over the years. But everything as we soon learn is from Bailey’s perspective, trying to comprehend simple human concepts, while adding his own two cents as a dog.
As the years go on by, Bailey realizes that his time with Ethan is coming to a close as the vets need to put him down. But that’s not the end of his story. He’s reincarnated as a German Shepherd police dog and is even a female in this new life. As we quickly learn, this is a continuous cycle of live, bond and die. Making matters worse, every time Bailey dies, it’s a gut-wrenching ordeal that does not need to be depicted onscreen. If you’re an animal lover, the waterworks are going to be the first to go through at least half the movie.
It’s understandable why the source material of A Dog’s Purpose has its followers. At its core, there is that loving relationship between man and dog and how it evolves over the years. While the relationships are sentimental, the endings to each of these stories are brutal. It’s not a welcoming experience in a family film to witness the murder and euthanasia of an animal again and again. There’s too many times when A Dog’s Purpose knows when you’re down and yet wants to punch harder with its cynicism and manipulation.
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The execution is flawed as well. While we’re invested in the relationship between Ethan and Bailey, the majority of A Dog’s Purpose is nothing shy of filler. Pacing and tone are sacrificed throughout. And when Bailey is taken in by a loyal cop and later a college student, there’s little investment as they’re merely placeholders for a bigger picture. A forced scenario is never too far behind either, showing too much of the bad in humanity.
If anything, the first 30 minutes of A Dog’s Purpose is watchable as the relationship between Ethan and Bailey feels the most genuine in the bunch. Even when Tomorrowland’s Britt Robertson is thrown into the mix as Ethan’s impromptu girlfriend, it’s actually fun for a while. But once, Bailey bounces from one owner to another in a different body every time, the magic’s opportunities at maintaining its momentum are lost. Though Josh Gad (Frozen) is a likable presence as the voice of Bailey and his other reincarnated forms. His lively narration and point-of-view is the little life A Dog’s Purpose actually has.
Going into A Dog’s Purpose, many are well-aware of the behind-the-scenes controversy released by TMZ. Though some of the editing and manipulation of events may turn people away, one need to separate the film from this news. That being said, A Dog’s Purpose made its own choice in being messy and manipulative without the TMZ controversy.
There’s no real pleasure seeing A Dog’s Purpose unfold. While a unique approach to exploring the bond between man and his best friend, it’s better to take your tail and run the opposite direction.