So… it’s kind of hard to talk about A Dog’s Purpose without addressing the elephant in the room first. Not too long ago, TMZ released set footage from the film where a German Shepherd is forced into rushing water. During another take, the dog is seen going under the water as the crew rushes to its aid. While the dog is reportedly fine, the filmmakers have still been accused of animal abuse. PETA has boycotted the picture and Universal even cancelled its premiere in Los Angeles. What makes this especially ironic is that the movie is about a dog that continually dies and keeps getting reincarnated. It’s a little like Quantum Leap, but with dogs.
It’s a little like Quantum Leap, but with dogs.
Controversy aside, does A Dog’s Purpose work as a standalone movie? Well, that depends. Do you just want to see adorable doggies being adorable? If so, then this is the movie for you. If you actually care about character development, storytelling, and basically all the essential ingredients that go into making a good movie, though, look elsewhere. That might sound cruel, but there are much better movies out there about man’s best friend, such as Old Yeller, My Dog Skip, and Marley & Me. The film’s director, Lasse Hallström, even made an acclaimed family movie a few years ago called Hachi: A Dog’s Tale. A Dog’s Purpose just feels like a retread of all the aforementioned movies, rendering its existence pointless.
The film’s first fatal flaw is that the dog talks. If movies like Marmaduke have proven anything, it’s that some animals should be seen and not heard. The dog here is no exception. Josh Gad provides the voice and, to his credit, it’s clear that he’s trying. You can’t fault the guy too much since he basically does exactly what the filmmakers paid him to do. The dialog he’s given to work with, though, is so cutesy, corny, and on the nose that it’s impossible not to roll your eyes. It would have been infinitely more effective if Gad’s inner monologue had been removed altogether, leaving the audience to interpret what the dog is thinking. The last thing we need is another Look Who’s Talking Now.
The last thing we need is another Look Who’s Talking Now.
Even without the dog’s inner monologue, we’d still have to put up with a bunch of bland, unoriginal characters. Our canine lead eventually finds a nice home with a boy named Ethan, who of course has a jerky, alcoholic father that doesn’t want an animal around the house. When the dog passes away years later, it’s reincarnated as another breed. This happens several times until the dog eventually finds its way back to Ethan, who is now an older man played by Dennis Quaid. Who knew that dogs had nine lives?
With a premise like this, A Dog’s Purpose has got to be either really heartwarming or really sappy. Sadly, it’s the latter. Every scene feels manipulative, every character is a one-note archetype, and the filmmakers constantly talk down to the audience. Does that make it a horrible movie? No, that’s probably going too far. At the very least, the actors do what they can, there are a couple gentle moments, and the dogs are admittedly cute. The whole movie is just, for lack of a better word, dumb.