BWW Review: A DOG'S PURPOSE at Palace Nova Eastend Cinemas

Reviewed by Libby Drake, Thursday 4th May 2017

A Dogs Purpose is basically a dog movie, with romance.

The film is based on the 2010 best-selling novel of the same name, by W Bruce Cameron. It's the story of a deeply philosophical dog who lives through several lifetimes and wonders about the meaning and purpose of his life. The first life is very short and ends with the dog catcher. The second life takes up a large portion of the film where Bailey the Golden Retriever is found and taken home by a young boy called Ethan. Next incarnation is Ellie the German Shepherd police dog, then Tino the Pembroke Welsh Corgi and, finally, Buddy the St Bernard/German Shepherd cross.

The main dog in this movie is Bailey. He is taken home by eight-year-old Ethan (Bryce Gheisar), helps the teenage Ethan (New Zealander K.J. Apa) hook up with Hannah (Britt Robertson), and then sees their relationship end. Adult Ethan is played by Dennis Quaid, who returns for the dog's final incarnation of Buddy.

Josh Gad gives voice to the dogs' thoughts. Often animal voice-overs can be very annoying, but Gad's tone is neutral and natural, with great timing on the gags.

Throughout the film the philosophising dog witnesses developing romances, the end of a romance, and comforts people who would like a romance. One of the dogs is even involved in a big romance himself.

But, who is this PG rated film for? Probably for people over nine years old, unless you want a lot of questions about death, reincarnation, and to have buried pets dug up to see if they've come back to life. Definitely an over nine and teenage market and then, possibly, for some adults who love dogs, romance, and a few tears.

The film starts well and there are a lot of laughs with dog two, Bailey. The dog tells us, "I had a boy and his name was Ethan. I got a name; my name is Bailey, Bailey, Bailey, Bailey, Bailey". Bailey's thoughts and dog-centric observations are funny and delightful including his total misinterpretation of the family cat. The same quality of writing, however, does not continue with the other dogs. Not as much screen time is given to dogs three and four. More of Ellie the German Shepherd would have been good as, who doesn't love a good police dog. The justification for the shorter stories seems to be to allow time for dog five to be reunited with Ethan. This is where the film takes a nosedive as it descends into sentimentality and becomes somewhat nauseating. There were five different writers involved with the screenplay, so this may explain the big differences in the quality of different scenes.

Director, Lasse Hallström, has directed some excellent films including What's Eating Gilbert Grape, Chocolat, and, more recently, The Hundred Foot Journey. A Dog's Purpose is certainly a glossy piece of direction with some very nice scenes and some beautifully shot segments of countryside, but the material was never going to produce a film that matches some of his other achievements. Also, the amount of face licking by the dogs starts to get positively icky.

There was much controversy over this film prior to its release when footage that appeared to show a German Shepherd being forced unwillingly into rushing water was circulated on social media and in the news. This leaked footage resulted in the U.S. premiere being cancelled. It was later announced by the American Humane Association that the footage had been deliberately edited to mislead the public. Even though the video has now been uncovered as fake news, there is no doubt that damage has been done.

For those who fall within the specific target markets, this film will be most enjoyable and entertaining. Those outside those markets may leave feeling unsatisfied.

A Dog's Purpose is currently screening at Palace Nova Eastend Cinemas.

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