A Dog’s Journey
Director: Gail Mancuso
Writer: W. Bruce Cameron, Audrey Wells, Wallace Wolodarsky, Cathryn Michon, Maya Forbes
Cast: Josh Gad, Dennis Quaid, Marg Helgenberger, Betty Gilpin, Kathryn Prescott, Henry Lau
Distributor: Universal Studios
Rated PG | Minutes: 108
Release Date: May 17, 2019
Going into a film like A Dog’s Journey, you can expect to be a little bit overcome with emotion and sentimentality. It’s going to be the kind of thing that plays well with dog owners as it speaks to the nature of how much they care for their beloved companions. A love letter to dog owners at best, its strength lies in presenting that care and love on screen. With the help of obvious manipulation and engineered emotional triggers, this sequel to 2017’s A Dog’s Purpose uses these canines to hit all the sweet spots that will have anyone, even the cynics, shed some tears.
Just don’t expect to share that some love or concern for some of its one-dimensional characters. Check out my full review below.
A Dog’s Journey follows the life of Bailey (voice of Josh Gad), a loyal St. Bernard/Australian Shepherd mix who belongs to Ethan (Dennis Quaid) and Hannah (Marg Helgenberger). After Hannah’s son dies in a tragic accident, she and Ethan take in her daughter-in-law Gloria (Betty Gilpin) and her infant daughter Clarity June “CJ” on their farm.
Bitter and angry at the world, Gloria spends half her time trying to figure out a way to launch her failing music career, and the other half looking down at the bottom of the wine bottle. Gloria is ignorant of the fact that her neglect is having a negative effect on CJ’s life and safety. So much so that Bailey’s protective instincts kick in when CJ wanders into a horse pen. Believing that Gloria needs help, Ethan and Hannah offer to take care of CJ. Gloria believes that they are using CJ as leverage to take her late husband’s inheritance. Of course, the two wouldn’t even do such a thing since that inheritance belongs to CJ, but Gloria still moves out and takes her daughter with her to Chicago.
The film doesn’t shy away from a dog’s mortality, and before Bailey passes on, Ethan asks him to come back and protect CJ. He is then reincarnated as Molly, a young beagle pup who is adopted by an adolescent CJ (Abby Ryder Fortson), with the help of a childhood friend Trent (Ian Chen). While Gloria isn’t fond of dogs, CJ blackmails her negligent mother into letting her keep Molly or else she will tell her teachers about how her mother is gone half the time.
As the film progresses, we get to see a teenage CJ (Kathryn Prescott) and her relationship with Molly grow. Her love for Molly is so strong that she starts to wear charms on her bracelet as a symbol of her love. Soon the two find their calling when CJ finds out that Molly is a therapy dog that can sniff out cancer. However, all of that is cut short after CJ’s abusive ex-boyfriend kills Molly.
But it isn’t all sadness and sorrow, CJ finds a way to move on as she sets off to start her own music career. Meanwhile, Molly finds a way to be reincarnated to find and knows that even with a new owner, he, as Big Dog, still has a duty to fulfill. And he will see that through at any cost, no matter how many lives it takes or how many times he has to be reincarnated.
A Dog’s Journey works as a series of interconnective vignettes that explore the lives of this one dog who has an obligation to complete Ethan’s request to protect CJ. While CJ may not realize it, this dog is always going to be a part of her life. Call it destiny. Call it fate. Call it whatever you want to call it, but there’s a lot of serendipity at play where the soul of this one dog always finds a way to be a part of CJ’s life.
It may be schmaltzy, sweet, and an overwhelmingly sentimental, but the film is still a warm love letter to dogs and dog owners. It’s pretty clear that all of the emotions felt will be elicited by whatever the dog does. But it’s what he says is a whole other issue. Some of the dog jokes and dialogue are a bit cheesy and repetitive. The constant idea that the dog only understands what a human wants or needs through “smelling butts,” “hugging so tight you can’t breathe,” and “licking faces” is cute at first, but it starts to wear thin, and it becomes apparent that the script has run out of dog puns on the ways that only a dog can communicate. But, as dog owners may note, its heart is in the right place because they can all relate to what they see on screen.
See, this dog’s newfound purpose in life is to protect CJ. Sure it may not be like a life or death, but its protection from those who may hurt CJ through their unsupportive actions. These vapid characters show zero interest in helping CJ. None of them have any real depth or layers. While they don’t have any redeeming qualities – CJ’s mother blames her for being attacked by an abusive boyfriend, while another boyfriend shows no interest in helping get CJ’s music career off the ground – it doesn’t mean they have to be so poorly written or one-dimensional. At times, it feels like these characters are in there for sake of humiliating CJ. Of course, there needs to be a force that requires CJ to rise above it all, so that when she does rise above it all you can be happy she completes her arc. But here, it doesn’t feel like its earned it.
A Dog’s Journey may play up to a lot of cliches and tropes that any good film would have. Add in the cutesy dog moments, it’s enough to make you forget about some of the film’s narrative shortcomings. But in the end, it’s a celebration of the relationship humans have with their dogs. And there is nothing sweeter than that.