A DOG’S JOURNEY is Universal’s welcome by-the-numbers sequel to its hit A Dog’s Purpose, again co-starring a pet and picture-perfect Dennis Quaid, Josh Gad providing the canine voice-overs, and a number of wonderful dogs (large, small, mixed and pedicreed) repping the different (but same!) pooches that enrich the human lives through their re-incarnated lives.
This iteration’s journey, again relying on author W. Bruce Cameron's material, begins on the Michigan farm where Bailey (a floppy St. Bernard mix) lives with owners Ethan (Quaid), his wife Hannah (Marg Helgenberger) and the couple’s beloved young granddaughter CJ, another Bailey favorite. CJ sadly is the offspring of their rogue widowed granddaughter Gloria (Betty Gilpin), a mean bitch (in the human sense) and wannabe singer who likes booze too much and dogs way too little. When she moves on to forge a career (and more trouble for herself), she takes CJ, bringing grief to Bailey and her grandparents. Matters briefly turn further south when Bailey is taken gravely ill and, promising Ethan and Hannah that he’ll find CJ, is put to sleep. But faster than you can say “Treat??!,” Bailey, now on his journey, is re-incarnated into a series of other wonderful dogs, who all lead to new situations and encounters with a variety of characters, including, most importantly, CJ, now in her late teens and early 20s (excellent Brit actor Kathryn Prescott), as she follows her own dreams to Manhattan. If you think it all winds up back in Michigan, then you’ve seen A Dog’s Purpose.
So the story’s as corny as Michigan in August and familiar as a bag of kibble, but for true, passionate dog lovers who value the unconditional love, loyalty and beauty of these animals (fake fans and fanciers will be outed), the film is an emotionally provocative, thoroughly engaging feel-good experience. Quaid again triumphs, even as dogs chew up the often gorgeous scenery.
No requirements necessary here for a deep belief in reincarnation or immortality, though tendencies toward some kind of faith and spirituality will help.
A truly high quality production that smartly pays attention to pacing, performances, cinematography, score, messages and the high art of aging characters authentically pays off.
Virtues abound including diversity within both dog and character casts, effective soft sells on behalf of dog adoptions and remarkable canine skills (e.g., cancer-sniffing dogs) in addition to wholesome, yet not gooey messages addressing love, family and kindness.
O.K., this utterly charming, delightful film may not charm or delight those who aren’t thoroughly devoted to dogs, as a poorly-observed, insensitive reviewer from a usually reliable legacy publication made perfectly clear (reviewers, like dogs, often need better training).