A Dog's Journey movie review: Heartwarming take on human dynamics through the eyes of man's best friend
A Dog's Journey may be less existentialist than its predecessor but it brings alive the searing, irrevocable pain of separation through a bunch of perfectly cast dogs.
castJosh Gad (voice), Dennis Quaid, Kathryn Prescott, Marg Helgenberger, Betty Gilpin, Henry Lau
Two years after Bailey (Josh Gad) found his purpose, his journey continues in Gail Mancuso's A Dog's Journey. While it adopts the same point of view (of a dog) and narrative format, the sequel to A Dog's Purpose focuses more on human dynamics. But the predominantly optimistic tone of the film works hugely in its favour because of the audience's investment in its central character.
As a reluctant animal lover who never had any fondness for dogs despite having them around quite a lot, I found A Dog's Purpose to be immensely moving.
It did for me what The Lion King or Hachiko did years ago. The pain of separation that was introduced through these films over 20 years ago rushed back to me. But this time, there was no one I could cling to in my immediate proximity. At this stage of life I had already gone through the pain of separation, and could not resort to the cozy comforts of reality. The realisation made the experience of watching A Dog's Journey even more heartening.
While the first part dealt with the theme of existentialism through the lens of a dog, the second one underlines a dog's organic inability to gauge complex human dynamics. "Why would they not lick each other?" Bailey continues to ask in this part as well, confused why two people who he smelled love (sweat in the pants) in seldom confess it to each other. But in A Dog's Journey, Bailey gets a newfound purpose from Ethan (Dennis Quaid), his first master — to look after his wife Hanna's granddaughter CJ (Kathryn Prescott). As The Golden Retriever takes note of Ethan's final words to him, he rests on his master's lap, thus starting a new journey across the next three lives to discover CJ and ensure she always swears by his mantra: "Be here now."
As the rather long trailer of the film suggests, The Golden Retriever (Bailey) journeys through consecutive lives of a Beagle (Molly), an American Mastiff (Big Dog) and a Shih Tzu (Max) to find CJ in every life and just be with her. CJ is the daughter of Hanna's daughter Gloria (Betty Gilpin), who does not take too well to her husband, Alex's death. Her bitterness and helplessness is inherited by CJ, before Bailey (across different lives) comes to her rescue.
The overall flow of the story is quite predictable, but there are more twists than the first film to keep the viewer invested till the end.
W Bruce Cameron provides solid foundation through his novel to screenplay writers Maya Forbes, Cathryn Michon and Wallace Wolodarsky. Josh Gad's voice enlivens the script and hits the right spot while translating the myriad range of expressions in a dog's mind, from wonder to longing. The characters, especially humans, are better etched out here. While Ethan and Hanna (Marg Helgenberger) were explored in depth in the first part, the focus of the second instalment is entirely on CJ, in addition to mother Gloria and boyfriend Trent (Henry Lau). All the actors have a lot of meat to chew on and they sink their teeth into it. But since it is a dog's journey, the dogs are in the spotlight. After all, how self-obsessed a human you can be to not let a dog narrate his own journey?
Mark Isham's music is part borrowed, part original but sits well with the bright overtones of the film. Rogier Stoffers could have used the camera more inventively given the unusual POV but he keeps the cinematography simple, which ends up working in favour of the film. Robert Komatsu's editing honours the screenplay of the film by adhering to the written word. John Papsidera's casting, Eric Fraser's production design and Patricia J Henderson's costume design help in realising the world of A Dog's Journey. But the technical departments are aware that it is a plot-driven film, which is why they allow the script to take the forefront, just like how the humans allow the dogs to shine in a film that they know does not revolve around them.
And dogs do not disappoint. From The Golden Retriever we saw in the first part to the Shih Tzu that takes the film to its resolution, every dog is cast to perfection. However, one hopes that the makers have extracted heartwarming and heartbreaking scenes from the dogs through training rather than unethical means. I still cannot get over the distraught face of the American Mastiff who is left abandoned by CJ, as he runs with all his might to chase her car. It is an image that has stayed with me and will flash in front of my eyes for years.
All images from YouTube.
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