Marred by controversy before it was even released, the odds were stacked against A Dog’s Purpose from the get-go. The film was supposed to be one of the biggest hits of the year, until a now debunked animal abuse controversy put a spanner in the works. As a result, the premiere was put back and the studio suffered from very bad publicity which has proven difficult to shake off. Now, an independent investigation has found that the video, which supposedly showed a dog being pushed into the water, had been edited to “mischaracterise” what actually happened during filming. However, the damage was already done and the news of the film’s absolution from any wrong-doing failed to pick up the same steam as the original story and went almost unnoticed.
Away from controversy, A Dog’s Purpose is the kind of film that will not only break hearts, but might even anger some for the way in which it manipulates its audience. Directed by Lasse Hallström – of What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993) and Chocolat (2000) – and adapted by Cathryn Michon and W. Bruce Cameron from Cameron’s own 2010 best selling novel of the same name, A Dog’s Purpose is a nuts and bolts tale of one dog’s devotion to his human companion. The story spans several lifetimes in the life of a dog named Bailey (voiced by Josh Gad), who after his death goes on to be reincarnated several times without ever forgetting his original owner.
As a child, Ethan (Bryce Gheisar, later played by K. J. Apa and Dennis Quaid) rescues a golden retriever puppy from certain death and is later allowed by his parents to keep the pooch which he names Bailey. The two go on to form one of the strongest bonds between a boy and his dog, a bond so strong that it manages to transcend even the dog’s natural life time. Years go by and Bailey is seen reincarnated into a number of dogs owned by several people, but none of them ever come close to replacing Ethan in Bailey’s eyes.
It would be hypocritical of me to pretend that I wasn’t deeply moved by this movie. Anyone who has ever owned a dog can relate to the agony that comes with losing one’s best friend. I would also be at a miss not to mention how upsetting this film could be for younger audiences, considering that it is mostly aimed at that very demographic. Having said all that, A Dog’s Purpose isn’t just a cute tearjerker of a film. It is also hopelessly optimistic in its content. Quaid as older Ethan is utterly brilliant as is the always excellent John Ortiz as a cop handling one of Bailey’s reincarnation as a police dog.
On the whole, the film may not have the most meaningful storylines of the year, but it is sure to move you to tears, and I will defy anyone not to shed a few. Hallström manages to inject some familiarity into the proceedings by making the film feel like a warm bath, or a lost old sweater. A genuinely moving tale, beautifully acted and thoroughly enjoyable despite the obvious over-sentimental nonsense.
A Dog’s Purpose is out in cinemas across the UK on Friday, May 5th.