A Dog’s Purpose 2017
Directed by Lasse Hallström
Starring Josh Gad, Britt Robertson, K.J. Apa, Bryce Gheisar, John Ortiz, Logan Miller, Dennis Quaid, and Peggy Lipton
A dog looks to discover his purpose in life over the course of several lifetimes and owners.
It turns out that human beings are not the only ones that have existential thoughts such as the meaning of life. Man’s best friend is also looking for purpose, hence the title A Dog’s Purpose (based on the book by W. Bruce Cameron and adapted for the screen by Lasse Hallstrom of What’s Eating Gilbert Grape fame), except the caveat here is that these beloved canines are able to reincarnate into new bodies, sometimes switching up breeds and genders.
With that said, I’m going to jump right in and discuss how Josh Gad (most known as voicing Olaf from Frozen) tackles the challenge of acting as both the narrator and driving force of the story voicing these dogs, which is not exactly easy. He does get the job done, successfully able to imbue the voices of the dogs with a wondrous sense of curiosity that runs parallel with the central theme of the story; it overall feels right. However, what is confusing and somewhat disappointing is that every dog has the same voice, sending across vibes that there is a missed opportunity to give each new reincarnation an altered personality or some distinction while maintaining the same overarching conscience. Fun should be had bringing life to these adorable creatures, yet here Josh Gad seems pigeonholed into delivering something, that while admittedly properly functions, feels bland and typical.
The story itself (which follows the lives of multiple dogs learning new important details of their so-called purpose) is a scattershot mess. From a story-writing perspective, there needs to be some attachment to the humans being presented and not just the dog, otherwise, his learned lessons or eureka moments come across with very little emotional weight. The most egregious example of this is during the middle of the film, which sees the dog transition between multiple bodies and owners (ranging from police officers to lonely women to neglectful owners), where every little plot detail is blasted through at such breakneck speed it’s hard to care about anything. I actually forgot some characters existed until intentionally trying to remember certain elements regarding the plot while writing this paragraph. It’s nice that the dog is picking up on things and that his new experiences are feeding him more purpose, but again, it just doesn’t feel earned in terms of storytelling. Much of this could also probably be chalked up to the fact that books have much more opportunity to flesh out every single character, whereas this movie is 100 minutes of going from A to B to C all the way to Z.
However, there is a saving grace which is the dog’s relationship with his first real owner, a child named Ethan with him from the early stages of puppyhood all the way until his passing during the boy’s teenage years. Where the movie takes this element for the final act is nothing short of touching with a damn satisfying ending carrying some movie magic. Still, the road is paved with a lot of over-exaggerated scenarios (there is a burning fire sequence that is nothing short of preposterous and completely silly in context) and undefined characters that may or may not be more interesting than they appear. Audiences can always get behind loathing a drunk father that lashes out on his family, but here we don’t even know what triggered this drastic personality change. The most we get is one line about tension rising with Russia during the Cold War, which could somehow have had something to do with it. If not, hell if I know. Even if there is a brief explanation I missed, it’s hard to hate a one-dimensional villain presented as a living cartoon.
Also, it needs to be mentioned that while the concept of A Dog’s Purpose is definitely unique and original, it is palpable just how much the multiple writers on board here want an emotional reaction from the audience from dog death, and like much of everything else here, the results are mixed. Some deaths and intentionally tearjerking sequences feel natural and earned, while others scream “WE’RE KILLING THE DOG AGAIN, F*** YOU, CRY”!. On the bright side, there is definitely a strong sense of urgency and danger whenever the dog is in a life or death situation, which is more than I can say for most characters in mainstream movies released.
A Dog’s Purpose works as decent family entertainment and nothing more. Even the attempts at humor are over-the-top and frustrating to watch (there’s seriously a scene where the boy tries to get the dog to crap out a rare coin that is of great sentimental value to his father). Actually, the only humorous scenes involve the dog’s interactions with the family cat, which is a dynamic that needs to be explored further if there is ever a sequel (there are multiple novels). Anyway, the movie tries so desperately hard to be emotional, intense, thought-provoking, funny, and more that the finished product is beyond rushed and wholly disjointed. However, the ambition and ending the story strives for is worth praise.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★