PLOT: In the sequel to A DOG’S PURPOSE, a dog finds the meaning of his own existence through the lives of the humans he meets.
REVIEW: In the sequel to the 2017 global hit A DOG’S PURPOSE, Bailey (voiced by Josh Gad), a Great Pyrenees Bernese Mountain dog, finds himself back on the Michigan farm with his old buddy Ethan (Dennis Quaid). Bailey lives a fulfilling life with his pack, which includes his boy Ethan, Ethan’s wife Hannah (Marg Helgenberger), their daughter in law Gloria (Betty Gilpin), and her baby CJ. Bailey loves spending his mornings begging for CJ’s bacon, helping Ethan out with his chores around the farm, and taking leisurely dips in the kiddie pool with his tiny friend CJ. However, this old dog can sense that there’s trouble amiss. Ethan’s son left home one day and never came back, and things have been a little tense ever since. Finally, one day, Gloria snatches up her daughter and heads off in a hurry, wild with accusations of her parents trying to steal CJ away. Shortly thereafter, Bailey passes away, but not before making a promise to Ethan that he will come back in the next life and protect CJ for all her days to come.
Thus begins Bailey’s adventures through multiple lives of multiple good-boys, as he aids CJ in her various journeys. First, Bailey comes back as a Beaglier named ‘Molly’, who constantly covers an eleven-year-old CJ with puppy kisses during the nights when her mom is off drinking and dating the many men in town. Then, when CJ is a little older (played by Kathryn Prescott), Bailey runs into her again at a gas station, only this time he’s in the guise of ‘Big Dog’, an African Boerboel who shakes CJ’s paw at Joe’s Roadside gas station. Later on, Bailey finds himself reincarnated as ‘Max’, a scrappy Yorkshire Terrier who locates his old buddy CJ on the streets of New York and kisses her face until she takes him home. No matter what form he takes, Bailey is always there to watch out for his best friend, to aid CJ in her quest of being a singer in the Big Apple, to stick by her side during the rough break-ups with boyfriends, and to guide her back to the sweet boy who stole her heart back when they were sandbox friends, Trent (Henry Lau). Bailey proves through unconditional love and many incarnations that life is, indeed, better with a canine.
Every now and then a movie comes along that makes you wonder if it’s truly a good film, seeing as how you cried incessantly throughout the entire runtime. These are the ‘tearjerkers’ of the film world, and in a way, they do exactly what they’re supposed to do — make you bawl like a baby until you wish you had waited to watch this particular feature at home, hidden from the judgmental eyes of other moviegoers. A DOG’S JOURNEY is one of those movies. After all, it’s hard not to be touched while watching a little girl hide under her covers from the booming cacophony of thunder, holding her puppy close to her side, thanking him for taking care of her while her mom is out at all hours doing god knows what during the storm. It’s a struggle to stay dry-eyed through scenes of a down-on-her-luck adult CJ wandering the streets of New York, looking for a place to sleep, only to be comforted by a tiny terrier in her backpack, letting her know that she is on the right path, even if there have been a few missteps along the way. If anyone needed any proof that every movie could use at least one (if not more) happy puppers tagging alongside their cast, A DOG’S JOURNEY is an effective case made.
However, this is also a movie in which a dog dies every thirty minutes. I mean, how is Bailey going to be reincarnated from one dog to the next if the soul doesn’t leave the body? It’s a strange premise, to say the least, almost as if CHILD’S PLAY were reimagined as a Lifetime movie. You’d be hard-pressed to find any dog lovers willing to sit through a movie where they have to witness man’s best friend doing the big sleep so ridiculously often, even if the alpha is born again as an adorable pupper in the next scene. I’m not sure who this film is for, to be honest, seeing as how its PG rating suggests a target audience of children, but its adult content comes across as a bit too mature for anyone still going through the motions of grade school. Of course, in the end, it’s endearing to witness a few sweet puppers help little CJ reconnect with the people who only wish the best for her, but was the journey to get there really worth all of the devastation the audience has to witness in the process?
Overall, A DOG’S JOURNEY is a hard movie to recommend to anyone other than moviegoers looking for a good cathartic cry. Despite its very Buddhist-for-beginners plotline, the movie comes across as extremely conservative, as it turns the only single parent into a raging alcoholic, while also simultaneously suggesting that the only boy a girl should marry is the one she grew up with in her hometown. Not to mention the fact that this film has the speediest cancer-and-recovery subplot that this writer has quite possibly ever witnessed onscreen, the whole film just comes across like one big life lesson being slowly hammered into your brain, one teardrop at a time. For those seeking a good story to weep through, be my guest. Otherwise, avoid at all costs.