The concept of anthology storytelling is something that has crept up on both television and film audiences over recent years. Telling stories through the lens of multiple different moments in time or style allows for more range and for a constantly shifting experience. A Dog’s Purpose is following that style, albeit with more connective tissue, but while it aspires to move it’s audience, one can’t help but feel that there simply wasn’t enough reason to tell this story. It seems that while there’s a clear purpose for dogs, there’s just not as much for humans.
The film starts off with young puppy Toby (all reincarnations are voiced by Josh Gad), who is a pretty feral pup who lives a short life before he is taken to the pound in the 1950’s. It’s a quick story that is mainly seen as a way to tell the audience that this story is not about any singular dog, but rather about a dog’s spirit, as we follow multiple lives, different owners and diverse dog types as the spirit finds out what a dog’s purpose really is. Over the course of half a dozen stories we find that somehow, everything can come full circle and one fulfil not just his own purpose but give new purpose to someone who needs it.
The major problem with this scattershot approach to narrative, especially notable given it’s slim 98 minute running time, is how fast some of these stories have to move in order to get to the next one. It’s not so much about which one would be your favourite, but how long until it reaches it’s point. It’s a shame because this concept could have explored stronger themes in more depth if they made less stories or expanded upon each story so that it didn’t feel like a skipping stone approach but rather one of importance. It’s due to that that the film only really works when the dog (mostly known as Bailey) is interacting with Ethan.
Ethan, played by Bryce Gheisar and K. J. Apa in the first major segment (at eight and teenage version), is the one to first make the connection with Bailey. He becomes Ethan’s most important mainstay of his formative years, and in the way of film dogs, Bailey is his closest friend and hero. This segment is where the film spends most of it’s time, and it does exactly what it needs to, even if it’s of the approach usually reserved for after school movies, that is the ‘drugs are bad-be good to your parents’ type shtick. It’s important to note that while this review doesn’t make it sound too original, it’s a much more welcome story than that that follows.
The problem with reviewing this movie however is that telling anymore about the lessons learnt in the stories will ruin the third act (although the trailers desperately wanted to ruin that anyway), meaning that if this review was to go into detail, there would be no reason to even watch the movie. The film has one trick so to speak, and it’s so poorly played that it’s very reveal is all it has going for it. So the most this review will say is that during the film’s weird diversions, there will be a high point eventually. It may not be worth it, but it’s there.
Director Lasse Hallstrom, a two time Oscar nominated Director, seems to have been told to make this film on a shoe string budget, or to make the movie for TV, as it doesn’t have the feeling of a movie. If this movie just came on as the 21st episode of 7TH Heaven without telling me, I would believe it. It’s a shame that it feels so small and cheap, because this Director really excels at family dramas. Maybe it’s the script at fault, but there’s none of that drama that permeates his other films like What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.
A Dog’s Purpose is a film that goes through the motions like a trained dog. It jumps through the hoops and sits when it is told to, but it feels so deliberate that it lacks a certain amount of passion. It goes through the motions, ticks the boxes and aim’s for some higher meaning, but it simply falls short. If there’s any purpose to be found in this review, it’s to tell you that this movie is not something to run out and see.
SCORE – 30%
A Dog’s Purpose is available now on DVD, Blu-Ray and Digital. Head to the Entertainment One website for more details.