Right off the bat, it’s important to know for this review that I’m a dog owner. In fact, as I wrote this, my six year old mutt is sleeping mere feet from me. I tell you that to let you know that the manipulation found within A Dog’s Way Home worked on me, almost without fail. The movie is a family friendly animal adventure, but one that made me cry on about a half dozen separate occasions. There are happy tears to be found, sad tears, you name it. By the time the flick had come to an end, I was a total mess.
The film is an adventure suitable for the whole family, whether they have two legs or four. We follow a puppy (internal monologue provided by Bryce Dallas Howard) as she goes from a young stray to a beloved family pet. Found with a bunch of cats by Lucas (Jonah Hauer-King), she’s named Bella and has a happy existence with him and his army veteran mother Terri (Ashley Judd). They take Bella to a VA center where she’s an excellent therapy dog. Then, events conspire to separate Bella from Lucas. Stranded, alone, and over 400 miles from home, she begins a quest to get back to her human. Danger, kind hearts, helpful animals, and potential death await her over the two and a half year journey. No spoilers for assuming how this ends, but there are multiple moments that will bring you to tears. Charles Martin Smith directs a screenplay by W. Bruce Cameron (based on his own novel) and Cathryn Michon. Supporting players include Edward James Olmos, Alexandra Shipp, Wes Studi, Barry Watson, and more. Peter Menzies Jr. is the cinematographer, while the score is composed by Mychael Danna.
Manipulative or not, this tale made me cry almost uncontrollably. One specific tragic moment and one of happy release had me openly sobbing. The humans are paper thin, but our canine companion is a delight. She captures your heart early on and never lets it go. At 96 minutes long, it never wears out its welcome either. Now, if you’re not an animal lover, and specifically, not a fan of dogs, this may be a rough sit, no pun intended. However, if furry friends are an interest of yours, this will be a moving experience. It manipulates the hell out of you, but the emotion comes so hot and heavy, you probably will be like me and just give yourself over to it.
Animal led cinema can often be a risky bet. Luckily, this movie finds a way to hold your interest. Having Bella have an inner monologue livens up the scenes with just animals or just the one dog on the screen. At the same time, it’s good that all of the other non humans in the film don’t speak. That would be a bit much. The flick is aimed at children and families in general, so it’s understandable. Thankfully, it could have been too cartoonish, but this decidedly is not that. It actually manages to thread the needle in a surprisingly successful way.
Anyone who cares about a dog will be moved by A Dog’s Way Home. The filmmakers know what will get to you and they set out with a laser focus to bring out the feels. Its aims are rather simple, and in that sense, this is a big success. The audience that goes to this movie should clearly know what it’s in for. You likely already know if this film is for you or not. If it is, bring the tissues, prepare your emotions, and get ready to have a good cry. Your tear ducts will get a real workout, but it ultimately leads you to a really sweet landing spot.
Be sure to check out A Dog’s Way Home, only in theaters this weekend!