A Dog’s Way Home

I don’t think the studios screened this for the critics here, or if they did, I just dropped the ball and missed it. So I went to a showing at the Reading Town Square the night before it opened, and I’m glad I did. It kind of took the bad taste out of my mouth from A Dog’s Purpose. (Although both films were written by W. Bruce Cameron.) It was like the filmmakers of this realized…nobody liked seeing the dogs continually die in that movie, so they made a movie where a dog has to deal with a lot of adversity, but always escapes death at each turn. That being said, it gives you a few scares, which I think is kind of fun for this family movie (but it does earn it’s PG rating for a reason, so parents be warned). Everything they introduced that might make parents wonder if this would be appropriate for kids, was actually done well, and in a way that won’t make you regret taking the youngsters. Things are introduced like PTSD, or the negative side to hunting, the debate about pit bulls being dangerous…even a couple that was gay. I told my wife that gay groups might object to the fact that they never show physical affection towards each other. There’s no kissing, hugging, or even hand holding. I’d like to think people would just be happy the couple is introduced this way, in a kids’ movie. What would be the point of having some hardcore religious family objecting to those scenes and worse, boycotting the film claiming that it has no place in a kids’ movie? Being shown this way, parents don’t have to explain things to their kids if they don’t want, and no kids will even be asking questions. Things like that will go over their heads. It’s a win-win.   

The story starts with Luke, an animal lover, trying to help stray cats that live under a condemned building. He finds a puppy he names Bella, and decides to keep it. His mom (Ashley Judd) isn’t thrilled, but…she’s suffering PTSD and the mutt helps her with depression. And just like in some cheesy cartoon, they have to avoid the evil dog catcher. There’s also an angry neighbor that’s out to get the family.

My wife found the dogs voice annoying (sorry Bryce Dallas Howard), but I thought it was adorable. It had that boundless energy that a dog should have, and made the pup endearing. It might see a squirrel and chase it up a tree, or go on and on about her “Luke blanket” that smelled just like her owner.

Bella would lament missing her cat mom, but like most dogs, would always warm up to a new home (or cat). The reason there was a new home, is because of a law regarding pit bulls in the city of Denver. So they put the dog with relatives in New Mexico, which leads to the dog escaping so he can find Luke. Now at this point, you’ll have to put any believability aside and just go with the fun adventure. A lot of stuff is going to happen that no dog would survive (or as my wife said, “How much delousing would need to be done on that dog for living like that for so long?”)

What surprised me so much about the movie is how worried I was for the dog. I never doubted for a second the dog wouldn’t find her way home, yet every time a situation arose, I got nervous. And every time the dog had to leave a new owner, or a baby cougar it befriended in the wild, I’d start tearing up [I’m sure the CGI artist probably did too, when they saw the finished product, as the cougar looked a bit fake].

Luke and his girlfriend (Alexandra Shipp from Love, Simon) have a nice chemistry, but when you find out they both work at a VA hospital, you’ll roll your eyes. I mean, they spend their days off helping animals around town, and they work at a job helping folks with PTSD. They might be the two nicest people on the planet.

And, the sentimentality of it all gets piled on thick. But…that dang dog is so cute. The way it looks at someone about to feed it cheese…makes me forgive the cheesy elements of the film. The only time that really got annoying was hearing goofy songs played during certain scenes; although the cover of Edgar Winter’s “Free Ride” worked nicely when the dog was running through a grocery store wreaking havoc while looking for food, and the closing scene playing a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s underrated song “Everywhere.”  

Knowing that they used a rescue dog they taught various tricks for the film, makes it even more heartwarming.

How can you not be moved seeing the dog understanding when humans are sad, especially a homeless vet (played nicely by Edward James Olmos) who could really use man’s best friend.

It’s also shot nicely in the snowy mountains of Colorado.

It certainly helps if you’re a dog person, or even a cat person. My wife didn’t like the movie as much as me, but her favorite animal is a parakeet. The cute scene with a cockatoo squawking and then telling the dog to sit, made her laugh, but wasn’t enough to win her over. I thought it was cute, despite the flaws.

3 stars out of 5.