A Dog's Way Home Review
PG: Thematic elements, some peril and language
SONY, Columbia Pictures, Bona Film Group
1 Hr and 37 Minutes
Dir: Charles Michael Smith | Writers: W. Bruce Cameron, Cathryn Michon
Cast: Ashley Judd, Jonah Hauer-King, Alexandra Shipp, Edward James Olmos, Wes Studi, Bryce Dallas Howard
Release Date: January 11th 2019
You might be wondering why I’m reviewing “A Dog’s Way Home”. There’s no real reason for me to see this because the trailer did the job for me. Somebody in the marketing department really did not want this movie to make any money, for the trailer spoils the entire movie. But I, ever the optimist who looks for the good in everything, wanted to see if the final product was different that what we saw in the trailer. Hell, I wondered if it was better than its cousin film, “A Dog’s Purpose”, another film based on a popular book by W. Bruce Cameron which I actually enjoyed. I’m a pet person so I’m a sucker for these kinds of movies.
A dog named Bella embarks on a 400-mile journey home after she is separated from her owner, Lucas, who is an aspiring medical student. During the separation, Bella encounters a coyote pack in a forest. They are defeated by a cougar which befriends Bella.
That annoying inescapable trailer doesn’t do this movie justice because, if I’m going to be honest, I liked most aspects of the first act where Bella started off as a stray in an abandoned house living amongst stray cats until she was found by Lucas. By technical aspects regarding cheap CGI and awkward camerawork, the opening starts out rough, but as the story progresses you notice that it’s strong and heartfelt. When Bella becomes part of Lucas’ family, you cannot resist from going:
It has a stable set up where Bella leads a decent life until the film establishes an allegory for prejudice. There is an animal control guy who targets Bella just for the sole fact that she’s a pitbull. She is overall a sweet dog who does no harm, but this animal control guy gives her family hell as he illegally detains her and is forced to leave her hometown of Denver to live with Lucas’ girlfriend Olivia’s family before she’s captured again and put down to sleep. In other dog films, there would be a scene of the dog wreaking havoc and chaos before they’re captured by animal control, but that doesn’t happen here, for a terrible neighbor who does illegal destructive damage to Bella’s previous home that is riddled with cats has an animal control officer in his pocket. As Olivia says to an officer, “It’s pretty much racism towards dogs,” which is true. The film accurately portrays how narrow-minded people are towards pitbulls which is a very real issue in the dog world. So, what happens to Bella and the stakes that are raised for her are well executed as you feel the pain of her being taken away from her owner.
Similar to Josh Gad, Bryce Dallas Howard provides an energetic, charismatic vocal performance as Bella. She delivers a lot of tenderness to the dog with her voice that you can’t help but imagine Howard at the recording booth reading off the script with the most radiant smile. She just has that lively and upbeat personality that reflects the dog’s so well.
Also, most of the human cast does a great job. Ashley Judd, who plays Lucas’ mom, has a few strong scenes where she reminds you that, while she prefers to star in family films nowadays, she’s still a captivating actress. Alexandra Shipp (who I was surprised to see was in this) does a good job. U.K. actor Jonah Hauer-King is fantastic as Lucas. He’s a newcomer who delivers an impressive American accent and the scenes he shares with Bella are the strongest aspect the film has to offer. There is a powerful scene where he commands Bella to leave as animal control gains up on them and you hear the heartbreak in his voice as he does so.
As I said, the first twenty minutes was good. But right when Bella begins her journey back home and we kick into the second act:
Because of how much I enjoyed the first act, I felt bad about how poorly constructed the movie’s trailer was because it’s presented as a vastly different film until the adventure begins and what you saw is what you get, but WORSE. As far as dog movies go, the concept of “A Dog’s Purpose” was different. “A Dog’s Way Home”, on the other hand, is familiar even down to its title. If you have seen “Homeward Bound”, “Bolt”, “Secret Life of Pets”, “Beverly Hills Chihuahua”,”Lady and the Tramp”, and “Milo and Otis” then there is no reason for you to see “A Dog’s Way Home,” because all these films share the same synopsis. All of the aforementioned films have substance and, while they’re similar in story, they have different messages and character arcs to keep the movie engaging (even “Beverly Hills Chihuahua”).
One of the major flaws here is the lack of personality in its lead. There is no true character to Bella outside of DOG. She’s cute, loyal, and did I mention cute? That is her character. Bolt’s character arc was him learning how to be a regular dog and understanding how the show he plays in is not real during his cross country journey. Chloe from “Beverly Hills Chihuahua” had to learn not to be so uptight and appreciate others. Because of Bella being such a blandly written character, the adventure she goes on is not so adventurous and is actually rather boring. If you thought “A Dog’s Purpose” was way too saccharine, schmaltzy, and sentimental for its own good, “A Dog’s Way Home” cranks that dial up to eleven. Whatever genuine heart that was present in “A Dog’s Purpose” manipulates you to such an unbelievable extent that it makes you question what demographic it’s geared towards.
I know this is a family film but, for a movie on the big screen, it is shameful how much excessive CGI usage is present and oh my God it is terrible. The majority of the second act focuses on Bella being lost in the forest with a CG cougar and the visual effects done on the cougar is so bad. You can tell the film didn’t have much of a budget to begin with but the majority went to the cougar which is not fully rendered. What makes it worse is that a lot of the second act spends so much time on the two so whenever this real dog is wandering around the forest, the obviously faux cougar follows.
It is 2019 and there are so many films from previous years that had better effects than this cougar. “Stuart Little”, which was released in 1999, had much better effects than this. “Show Dogs” had better CG effects than this.
I can’t tell if Howard was reading a script or the source material because not a second goes by without Bryce Dallas Howard’s narration. It feels like you’re watching a visual audiobook instead of a movie. Hell, I bet the script attached was the same as the audiobook and there was no audio extracted. The movie barely stops for the audience to digest the dog’s action and digest her movements.
Not even the several scenes of slapstick can engage your attention. As I said, I have no idea who this movie is targeted towards because the movie gets too dark for a family film. By the second half of the movie, the film transitions from being a lifeless “Homeward Bound” clone to the dog version of “The Revenant.” The entire movie is Bella going through various heaps of hell where she finds herself in peril, physically injured, attacked, and actual death occurs around her. It’s baffling, for none of these aspects are appropriate for young audiences. The movie is too dull for anyone above the age of seven, but too traumatizing for anyone younger. I can only imagine that the film’s target demographic is pet owners and old people. Does W. Bruce Cameron even love dogs? “A Dog’s Purpose” was centered on a dog who kept dying and coming back to life for crying out loud! There is a segment where Bella is literally chained to a homeless war vet for months until he dies next to a river and she nearly dies herself due to dehydration while still being chained to his lifeless body. I SHIT YOU NOT, THIS IS PRESENT IN A PG MOVIE!
I give the film this: I’m surprised and actually happy to see a gay couple featured in the plot. A movie executive produced by T.D. Jakes features a homosexual couple. Gotta give the film props for fearlessly displaying the different relationships in the world. Also, it might ruffle the feathers of some super Christians and I might take glee in that. I already saw a tweet mentioning that aspect and thought:
Even when the film delves into dark territory, it’s not engaging enough to peak your interest. Even when it attempts to manipulatively tug on your heartstrings
The damn thing is so cheap and I was giving it the benefit of the doubt until Bella reunites with an older Big Kitten as a country girl cover of “Lean On Me” by Bill Withers plays and I burst into uproarious laughter. I ACTUALLY burst out in laughter. I still feel bad that this movie was screwed over by a terrible trailer, but by that point I didn’t care. We’re in January. From there on out, the film follows all the beats of the trailer even down to the reunion between Bella and Lucas. Hell, it concludes on that same girl doing an acoustic cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Everywhere.”
Despite a decent first act, “A Dog’s Way Home” is overly-saccharine, too familiar in its narrative, and bizarrely features way too many mature themes for its audience that it truly puts the oof in woof.
And just to think we’re getting another W. Bruce Cameron dog movie later this year.
Rating: 1.5/5 | 32%
Super Scene: Bella goes to the VA