Reincarnation Dog Tale Lacks Purpose

Directed by Lasse Hallstrom

Starring Josh Gad, Dennis Quaid, Britt Robertson

Released January 27th, 2017

Rated PG

WHO’S A GOOD DOG? I AM! HI, I’M BAILEY! I’m a golden retriever who was just rescued from a hot truck by a nice kid named Ethan (Bryce Gheisar). He’s my new owner. He’s around eleven years old and we are having so much fun running around and getting into mischief and playing fetch and OH BOY I HOPE THIS NEVER ENDS. I am such a happy dog.

Ethan’s dad (Luke Kirby) is a heavy drinker, so we try to stay away from that meanie. LAY OFF THE SAUCE, DAD! Years pass as fast as the cars I chase down the street and now Ethan (KJ Apa) is a teenager and I am still a happy dog. These days he takes me to his football games, on his dates with Hannah (Britt Robertson), he takes me everywhere! What more could a dog ask for?

And then I died. I was sad that I died. I missed Ethan. Soon I found myself in a tunnel of bright colors, until I was born again! I lived another life as a different dog, with different humans taking care of me. And then I died again. And came back again and again, as different dogs, different breeds, sometimes different genders! But I always had my memories of Ethan, and my favorite life.

What story is A Dog’s Purpose trying to tell? I can’t put my paw on it.

Some of my lives were sad. One of my owners chained me in their backyard and neglected me. Some of my lives were scary. I was a police dog getting shot at (I’ve always hated shots) trying to save a kidnapped girl. Some of my lives were happy. Mainly the one with Ethan.

I’ve come back so many times after dying that I’m starting to wonder why I come back at all. And then I see someone I recognize. Ethan (Dennis Quaid), all grown up. Will he remember me?

Directed by Lasse Hallstrom (My Life as a Dog, Hachi: A Dog’s Tale), and based on the book of the same name by W. Bruce Cameron, A Dog’s Purpose is a film built to make you cry. The movie quickly trains its audience to expect the death of each dog at the conclusion of its vignettes. It’s an effective, if manipulative, way to tell this story.

What story is A Dog’s Purpose trying to tell? I can’t put my paw on it. Using reincarnation as a plot device leads to questions about the nature of the afterlife that the film ultimately isn’t interested in answering.

The human cast is serviceable, with Dennis Quaid and Britt Robertson faring best. Josh Gad voices the dog throughout all of his reincarnations, and does his best to imbue Bailey with charm but usually comes across, like the film itself, as cloying and cutesy.

I expect this film may become a minor down-home sentimental classic for a certain audience. I’ll be happy if I never have to watch it again. A Dog’s Purpose did not make me cry, but then I’ve always been a cat person.