Is this dog-filled film a heartwarming tearjerker or is it the next Old Yeller? Based on the 2010 novel of the same name, A Dog’s Purpose follows the journey of a frequently reincarnated dog throughout 50 years. In that time, the dog (voiced by Josh Gad) lives through different breeds, genders and owners.
Let’s talk about the elephant in the room: this movie has been under fire well before hitting theaters. TMZ released an edited video of a terrified German Shepard coerced into a pool as a stunt for the film. The video sparked outrage from viewers, but more importantly from PETA, who called for a boycott. Since the video, the premiere was canceled and the film’s writer, producer, and co-star Dennis Quaid, said no animals were harmed during the shoot.
Some dog lovers will sit out the film because of the controversy, but can a film that’s intended for dog lovers find an audience despite the bad buzz?
For Kids: A dog who is reborn over and over sounds like a canine version of Edge of Tomorrow. Kids will, unfortunately, see a dog Tom Cruise die quite a few times. The AV Club warns those moments should be seen by older children. They say, “[Kids will] have to be mature enough to be able to handle multiple emotionally manipulative scenes of dogs dying.”
Woof. But what about the heart-warming stuff? Variety says the film’s director, Lasse Hallström, who’s dog film pedigree includes the beloved Hachi: A Dog’s Tale, really nails the sappy dog stuff. “It’s hard to fault the movie’s earnestness; Hallström’s canine cinema pedigree … shows through; and Rachel Portman’s score is understandably sentimental without going completely saccharine.”
For You: The critics are dragging their butts on the carpet for this film. The NY Times says, “You don’t need an animal-rights group’s boycott to give you permission to avoid [the film]. You can skip it just because it’s clumsily manipulative dreck.”
IndieWire says the film “is a lot harder to understand when you consider that it’s a kids’ movie featuring multiple dog characters suffering and dying.” Yikes.
So is there anything bearable for you? The Boston Globe praised Josh Gad’s performance, calling it “charmingly earnest” and the movie as “a weepie that can be tough to resist.” The Hollywood Reporter says the dogs are the true stars of the film: “Their utter irresistibility helps a long way in terms of getting past the corny plot machinations of [the film].” Hey, that kind of sounds positive.
Common Sense’s Take: Common Sense Media is the leading nonprofit source helping parents make movie and TV choices for their children. They stress the film gets violent at times and they specifically call out the moments. Thankfully, they say there are plenty of uplifting bonding moments between the dog and his kid owner Ethan to balance things out. The dog eventually reunites with the boy when he grows to be Dennis Quaid.
Bottom Line: There is no way this movie can avoid the backlash. Even without the controversy, critics seem to passionately dislike it. If your kids are hounding you to see it, then make sure they’re able to handle the hard stuff. Or better yet, stay home and stream Homeward Bound or one of the dozens of other awesome dog movies that already exist.
Running time: 120 minutes