Man’s best friend? There won’t be any doubts about who occupies that position in Lasse Hallström’s version of the best-selling book A Dog’s Purpose.
The Production: 3/5
Man’s best friend? There won’t be any doubts about who occupies that position in Lasse Hallström’s version of the best-selling book A Dog’s Purpose. It’s a sweet film with lots of canine hijinks and earnestness that elicits both laughs and tears in fairly equal measure. The movie sometimes spins its wheels, and it occasionally glosses over incidents which could have been developed with far more depth and intensity, but dog lovers probably won’t mind, and the story that comes full circle does certainly leave one with a tear in his eye.
A singular dog’s spirit goes through five incarnations on its journey into finding its purpose for existence. After a quick bit of life as an unclaimed mongrel who gets put down early, the last four iterations find the spirit (voiced by Josh Gad) as a red retriever named Bailey who becomes the lifelong pal of Ethan (Bryce Gheisar at age 8, K.J. Apa as a teenager), a German Shepherd named Ellie who serves as a decorated police dog for Carlos Ruiz (John Ortiz), a playful Corgi named Tino for college student Maya (Kirby Howell-Baptiste), and a neglected St. Bernard named Buddy determined to find his original human Ethan (Dennis Quaid). Along the way are adventures that go with each of its incarnations including rescue missions as a police dog and bringing his owners to find love in a couple of cases.
Bruce Cameron has adapted his novel for the screen with assistance on the screenplay from Cathryn Michon, Audrey Wells, Maya Forbes, and Wally Wolodarsky. Apart from one violent death (and even it is lessened in explicit carnage from what it could have been), the screenplay and director Lasse Hallström soft pedal the ending of each dog’s life as merely going to sleep before awakening with a new life in a different body (even the female dog Ellie continues to speak with the voice of Josh Gad), and the emphasis is almost always on the positive aspects of this spirit’s existence and not on the humdrum day-to-day existence or the occasional mistreatment. The incarnation as Bailey with its loving, inseparable relationship between boy and dog is really the focus of the film and the one chapter that could have been expanded dramatically without the need for the other experiences or even delving into the idea of doggie reincarnation. The other stories seem more incidental and are short-changed in their telling (the German Shepherd police dog segment generated some unfavorable publicity when it seemed the dog had received mistreatment during the filming: none of that shows on screen, of course, nor is it mentioned in the bonus material) extending the story to characters and plot that don’t get enough development and intrude on the bittersweet tale of Ethan that we are most interested in and eventually return to. Hallström milks every last laugh and tear from his canine performers (a slapstick dinner scene is particularly well staged), and the scenes in the country (filmed in Winnipeg) and the exciting rescue from a dam are evocatively filmed.
Josh Gad’s vocal performance is key to the film working at all, and he captures the various dogs’ curiosities and naiveté with an excellent voice-over performance. Bryce Gheisar and K.J. Apa make very believable Ethans at two different stages of his life, and their camaraderie with the dogs playing Bailey is completely endearing. As Ethan’s father who slowly sinks into alcoholism, Luke Kirby gives a wonderful performance though he’s robbed of enough screen time to really derive the most drama from the situation. Britt Robertson is an effervescent teenaged Hannah, Ethan’s girl friend who gets pushed aside after a family tragedy, but it’s a pleasure to see Peggy Lipton again as the older Hannah in the film’s closing sequences. Dennis Quaid plays the lonely aged Ethan in those climactic scenes in an ending that seems fairly pedestrian and predictable. Kirby Howell-Baptiste has some fun as college student Maya with Pooch Hall adequate as a fellow student with an interest in her. John Ortiz makes the most of his scenes as the Chicago policeman who forms a special bond with his police dog Ellie.
3D Rating: NA
The film is presented in its theatrical aspect ratio of 2.40:1 and is offered in 1080p resolution using the AVC codec. Sharpness is outstanding in capturing the facial expressions of all of the adorable dogs who play Bailey and his other incarnations during the film. Color is rich and full-bodied with believable and appealing skin tones. Black levels are excellent, too, and contrast has been consistently maintained for a first-rate image. The movie has been divided into 20 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix doesn’t squeeze the maximum out of its surround environment, but it does a fine job overall with dialogue nicely recorded and relegated to the center channel. Oscar-winner Rachel Portman’s music gets threaded through the fronts and rears while atmospheric effects get adequate placement in their respective channels.
Special Features: 3/5
Deleted Scenes (9:24, HD): fifteen scenes and shots may be watched individually or in montage.
Outtakes (2:11, HD): mishaps with the various dogs trying to perform assorted tricks in the movie.
Lights, Camera, Woof! (8:46, HD): a behind the scenes look at the movie’s production featuring words from director Lasse Hallstrom, producer Alan Blomquist, production designer Michael Carlin, writers W. Bruce Cameron and Cathryn Michon, and actors Dennis Quaid, Britt Robertson, K.J. Apa, Bryce Gheisar, Peggy Lipton, Pooch Hall, John Ortiz, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, and Josh Gad.
A Writer’s Purpose (4:44, HD): writer W. Bruce Cameron and his wife recount how the story came into existence.
DVD/Digital Copy/Ultraviolet: disc and code sheet enclosed in the case.
A sweet and engaging comedy-drama of a dog’s existence through five incarnations, A Dog’s Purpose offers enough laughter and tears to justify at least a rental, and fans of the book will likely be satisfied with this screen adaptation.