It’s hard to knock the importance of having genuine purpose in life…
Let’s be clear from the get go, there’s no way that A Dog’s Journey is honestly a traditionally good movie but it at least owns it’s ridiculous premise and will make you shed a good natured tear even when the narrative plays a little fast and loose with the ideas of life and death.
Bailey (voiced again by Josh Gad) is living the good life on the Michigan farm of his “boy,” Ethan (Dennis Quaid) and Ethan’s wife Hannah (Marg Helgenberger). He even has a new playmate: Ethan and Hannah’s baby granddaughter, CJ. The problem is that CJ’s mom, Gloria (Betty Gilpin), decides to take CJ away. As Bailey’s soul prepares to leave this life for a new one, he makes a promise to Ethan to find CJ and protect her at any cost.
Yes…these movies are inherently ridiculous but to its actual benefit A Dog’s Journey just asks us to go for this emotionally cloying ride rather than trying to set up any kind of conceit that dog’s get reincarnated in other lives…we just have to go with it.
Director Gail Mancuso, here in her theatrical feature debut actually has a sense of economy about her in her storytelling. She’s a TV veteran and simply doesn’t mess around, the film gets to the point and sets us on our way as quickly as it can.
Adapted from the book by W. Bruce Cameron (who also worked on the screenplay) the dialogue isn’t exactly the greatest (it’s often downright clunky with some massive potholes of logic to navigate along the way) but never for a second does the emotional core of the story (which is love and friendship) ever get lost along the way. It could have done with a bit of trimming and efficiency but it all gets us from point A, to B, to C and so on in an efficient manner even though it tends to gloss over some of the issues in families around life and death. Most young people learn about death for the first time through the loss of a pet and these films really feel glossed over on that front
Josh Gad brings a charming naiveté to his voice work which is perfect in this setting, while Dennis Quaid and Marg Helgenberger work well as the down to earth every couple of the film and both Abby Ryder Fortson and Kathryn Prescott are solid as iterations of young CJ as she navigates her way through the world with a new found friend (who is actually much older then she suspects). Sadly as the emotionally tortured mom, Betty Gilpin is just trying too damn hard. As Gloria she’s the equivalent of nails on a chalk board when everyone is handing you some chalk, you just want her to stop and the bulk of the other supporting players just couldn’t act their way out of a paper bag if their lives depended on it.
Looking on it all now between the first film A Dog’s Purpose and now here with A Dog’s Journey the titles of these films should have been flipped. It’s an emotionally manipulative experience which is honestly still hovering in “TV Movie of the Week” territory but as your cry your eyes out through this film (and if you own a dog you most certainly will) this odd mash up of eastern and western ideologies will at the least make you wonder why we all can’t get along like our pets do with us. The quality life lessons here in this film are hard to be denied, even if it manipulates you into being a sobbing wreck while watching it.