You know how everyone cries when the dog dies in a movie? Well, in A Dog’s Purpose you get to have those heart-strings tugged numerous times when you watch that moment over, and over, and over again, as the plot follows a dog as it is born, dies, and gets reincarnated as another hound, before the circle of life and death starts all over again. Not quite the fuzzy wuzzy cute doggie movie you were expecting, is it?
Certainly it is best if you prepare yourself (and especially younger viewers) for a rather dark beginning – the first puppy (voiced by Josh Gad) in this story barely lasts five minutes as he is born a stray, caught by animal control and then wakes up as a new dog (hopefully younger viewers may not quite realise what his fate must have been). Happily, things get a little more hopeful as incarnation number two is an adorable Golden Retriever called Bailey who is adopted by young Mid-Western boy Ethan and his family. We get to see Ethan and Bailey grow up together, and while it’s not all romping through cornfields in slow motion (Ethan’s dad has a bit of an anger and alcohol problem), it’s pretty sweet stuff as Ethan gets a girlfriend (Tomorrowland’s Britt Robertson) who luckily loves dogs, and Bailey heads towards old dog age and… well, you know what’s coming next.
Later incarnations include a dog that works for the K9 police unit, and a pampered house pooch who brings two humans together, before we end up with another stray who finds his way to a farmer’s home (the always watchable Quaid, who, despite top-billing, is only in the movie for about 10 minutes). In each story there are some really adorable moments if you are a fan of canines or soppy animal movies in general, and seeing the world from a dog’s perspective for each story is sweet, too.
While the film comes with some controversy attached – a leaked video, since shown to be edited in an inflammatory way, seems to show one of the dogs unwilling to do a water stunt during filming – it is actually some of the storylines that parents of younger and sensitive children should be most aware of. As well as the various doggie deaths (one is violent and another is really upsetting), the idea of reincarnation may puzzle enquiring minds, especially because how Bailey comes to be reincarnated as dogs and no other animals is never explained.
It’s certainly not a movie for the cynical or those who don’t like puppies, but if you’re a fan of man’s best friend this uneven little film is an enjoyably quirky addition to the animal movie genre.
Is A Dog’s Purpose suitable for kids? Here are our parents’ notes...
Due to the various dog deaths, this movie may upset very young viewers (and animal lovers).
During the film, some of the dogs are in danger – due to a police chase, a house fire, etc, which may be too much for sensitive viewers.
The idea of dog reincarnation may be confusing for young viewers.
Ethan’s father is violent when drunk which is also upsetting.
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