Director: Charles Martin Smith
Cast: Bryce Dallas Howard, Ashley Judd, Jonah Hauer-King, Alexandra Shipp, Wes Studi, Edward James Olmos, Chris Bauer
Screenplay: W. Bruce Campbell, Cathryn Michon
96 mins. Rated PG for thematic elements, some peril and language.
This is A Dog’s Way Home, a movie with a dog as its main character and the whole film is narrated by the dog. No, you’re thinking of A Dog’s Purpose. That came out two years ago. This is different. No, it’s not the sequel either. That’s A Dog’s Journey, which sounds exactly the same but it’s different. No,really.
Bella (Bryce Dallas Howard, Jurassic World, Gold) is a dog that has spent her whole time as a puppy raised by cats in the wreckage of an old home. That is, until she meets Lucas (Jonah Hauer-King, Ashes in the Snow, Old Boys), a nice young human who works at the VA hospital where his mother Terri (Ashley Judd, Double Jeopardy, Allegiant) spends much of her day. Bella quickly becomes a member of the family until a law in Denver forces Lucas and his mother to move to a smaller suburb in order to keep Bella. Bella doesn’t understand this as she is sent to New Mexico for a few days while the move takes place. She believes that Lucas needs her and she runs away toward Denver to find him, 400 miles away.
I really had very little interest in A Dog’s Way Home after seeing the trailer. I felt like the entirety of the movie was given away. Then again, the title and the expectations of a film like this would lead one to believe that they know how the story is going to go, and they are pretty much right. There isn’t anything shocking or unexpected in this film, and for most people, that’s going to be fine.
I felt as though this is a film of two halves. The first half of the film revolves around Bella’s relationship with her human Lucas and his mother Terri. That’s where the film finds its heart. I found myself won over by the relationship and love in this family dynamic. It mostly works except for a few truly groan-worthy moments like the one featured in the trailer where Terri and the others at the VA hospital hide Bella in a couch so that the doctor doesn’t find out. Yeah, not everything works in the first half, but more of it than I expected actually did.
The second half of the film is where the title comes into play. Bella ends up 400 miles from home and does everything in her power to find her way back to Denver. This is where the film struggles. The most blatant problem with the latter half of the film is that Bella’s wanderings seem so happenstance and uninteresting. They all seem like things that I would have guessed to happen without even seeing the film, as though they were a checklist of things that missing dogs have to accomplish to find their way to home.
There’s one exception to the clichés of the film’s second half, and it’s the newly formed relationship between Bella and an orphaned baby mountain lion, which she called Big Kitten. The problem with this character is that the CGI in the film is atrocious, and, Big Kitten being a completely CG character, it pulled me out of the film completely whenever Bella and Big Kitten were together. If a film cannot afford to do good CGI, then they just shouldn’t use CGI. Do a script rewrite and move past it. A Dog’s Way Home swings for the fences with Big Kitten, but it just doesn’t work due to shoddy CGI.
I also believe that A Dog’s Way Home could stand better with a different title. Yes, I understand that it’s the name of the book this film is based on, but I think there’s some confusion about this being a sequel to A Dog’s Purpose, especially with the upcoming sequel to that film, A Dog’s Journey, hitting theaters this year. I think it would positively impact the film’s box office if it stands aside from those films.
A Dog’s Way Home is flawed, yes, but it still contains enough light fluffy warmth to make it an enjoyable family film to start off 2019. It was better than my expectations for it (though I expected garbage), and I think it has an audience among families and dog lovers. If you thought the trailers looked good, I think you will find something to like in A Dog’s Way Home.
-Kyle A. Goethe