A Dog’s Purpose – Film Review

Director:  Lasse Hallström

Starring:  Dennis Quaid, Britt Robertson, KJ Apa and Josh Gad

Release Date:  5 May 

Based on the book of the same name, A Dogs Purpose is about a devoted dog (voiced by Josh Gad) that discovers the meaning of its own existence through the lives of the humans it teaches to laugh and love.
Reincarnated as multiple canines over the course of five decades, the lovable pooch develops an unbreakable bond with a kindred spirit named Ethan (played in by Bryce Gheisar, KJ Apa and Dennis Quaid in three different time periods, from kid, teen to adult) and goes on a search to try and rekindle their bond together.

While it may seem like a delightful story and, at times, can be quite a loving tale, with nice settings spanning 5/6 decades, the main problem with A Dog’s Purpose lies in its central contrivance. After our canine protagonist passes on, it somehow becomes reincarnated as a different dog and lives many different lives, all while still trying to find its true purpose.
Its reliance on a dogs death to conjure emotion is excessive. You may have heard of cheap laughs in film. This could easily be seen as a way to gain cheap tears.

Despite this emotional blackmail, the plot device of a dog’s everlasting soul in different vessels does provide a rather unique perspective. It allows us to journey through different lives that are thematically connected, to see how something as pure a dog’s love can affect people and how it can lay them emotionally bare.

We are introduced to the Cop with a tough demeanor, working in the K9 division in one of the dog’s lives, helping him to overcome the loss of a loved one and slowly remove himself from his tough shell.
Then there is the College girl who adopts a corgi. Afraid of commitment, she spends most of her time with her canine pal and stress-eating, wondering if she’ll ever get over her anxiety issues and meet someone to spend her life with. As you might expect, it soon becomes clear that a dog can be the perfect icebreaker in situations such as this.

The narrative with the strongest focus however revolves around the dog’s life as Bailey, a golden retriever who gets taken in by Ethan at a young age. Bailey and Ethan are immediately established as having a deep, emotional bond; they care deeply for each other and throughout all of his other lives, Bailey never seems to forget Ethan.
The antics of Bailey as he grows from puppy to adult retriever will no doubt going to bring joy and happiness to those who spend their evenings googling gifs of doggos. This also applies to children, who will equally accepting of Baileys crazy and fun loving antics.

It isn’t all smiles and sunshine however. A Dog’s Life has been mired in controversy since production, with allegations of dog abuse that later turned out to be false. This might have understandably deterred some dog-lovers from watching A Dog’s Purpose, but do take those allegations with a pinch of salt.
I would place my trust with the cast and crew of the film over the person who edited that notably poor bit of footage, who has likely had some financial gain since. Whatever your feelings on the film itself, go in with the knowledge that no animals were harmed.

However, while the animals might never have been hurt, the same can’t be said for audience members and their emotions. This is very much a film to just tug at your heartstrings but not in a deeply touching way.
Rather, this is the schmaltzy hallmark greeting card equivalent of film-making that has no other agenda than to have welling up. It lacks depth and doesn’t hold up to the likes of A Street Cat named Bob or even Hallström’s other film Hachi: A Dog’s Tale.

Bottom line: Needs more dog.

Score: 2/5
Written by Graeme Redmond

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