The last time I remember seeing a feel-good “family” movie about dogs that made me sob was Marley & Me. That movie was SOOOO mis-advertised, causing unsuspecting families with kids to go to the theater at the holidays for some heartwarming fare, only to be completely traumatized. Now we have A Dog’s Purpose, which will fit nicely on the shelf right next to Marley. This time, the main dog is reincarnated over and over throughout the film, which means, yes, you get to watch a bunch of dogs die throughout the journey.
Narrated by the dog Bailey (voiced by Josh Gad), we learn that he is a Good Dog who just wants to know what his purpose in life is (other than getting distracted by bacon). Our narrator is earnest and not particularly judgy of his humans, and he simply wants to know how he belongs. In his first life (in the 1950s), he finds his purpose: A boy named Ethan. Ethan is his best buddy, and they life an idyllic suburban life littered with playful antics, hanging out with friends, and visits to the grandparents’ home in the country. Bailey is always by Ethan’s side as the boy becomes a star high school football player, who then has his dreams shattered in a horrible way when he breaks his leg. Unfortunately, dogs don’t live as long as humans, so Bailey can’t stay on Ethan’s journey because, you know, HE HAS TO DIE.
Thus begins Bailey’s various reincarnations, where he doesn’t find a human nearly as good as his boy Ethan. Among his lives are as an urban police dog partnered with a sad cop, a little fat corgi owned by a lonely woman, and a St. Bernard, who is neglected in a trashy backyard. Eventually Bailey’s journey lead him back to a farm, with a lonely man (Dennis Quaid). You can see it coming, because Dennis always plays hot older guys who need to be saved. Baily recognizes him as adult Ethan, but just has to convince Ethan that he is his old childhood dog.
Now, who wouldn’t want their absolute favorite pet to show up in their lives again, reincarnated? The problem with A Dog’s Purpose is the repeated arc of the story: We all know that the worst part of pet ownership is letting them go. So, if you’ve ever lost a beloved pet, this movie is wrenching in the worst way. I cried at least four times, and don’t know if the happy ending made me feel any better. If you are in for a dead dog weepy on a rainy afternoon, well, then this is your cup of tea. Otherwise, I suggest going and cuddling your real pets for comfort instead.
Extras included deleted scenes and outtakes, a behind the scenes featurette narrated by one of the dog “extras”, and a bit about how the original writer got the idea for the story (which is kind of sweet).