I’m “biast” (con): …though many dog movies are not good
I have not read the source material
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
You may have heard of the Web site Does the Dog Die?, a crowdsourced resource for people who want to know in advance whether a dog featured prominently in a movie manages to survive said movie. I make no judgments about this; some people do not want to deal with such trauma, and fair enough, everyone has their deal breakers. (FYI, the site has recently expanded the range of triggering topics it covers from cats dying to “clowns” and “nuclear explosions,” the latter of which sadly, somewhat bizarrely, yet accurately includes a recent Harry Potter movie, so maybe this database really is essential.)
Anyway, I am here to tell you that in A Dog’s Journey, the dog dies. A lot. Over and over again. I mean, that’s okay, I guess: it’s no spoiler and kind of the whole point of this sappy tail, that our canine companions may be short-lived but let’s have this nice fantasy of them coming back — over and over again — to be with us. It’s like a faith-based movie if the faith was Hinduism or Buddhism or one of the other non-Judeo-Christian religions that believe in reincarnation. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, except that a certain slice of Americana might suddenly look askance at this absurdly sun-drenched, amber-waves-of-grain, football-catching puppy-fest as suddenly somehow suspect were it to occur to them that its spirituality is distinctly more Eastern than anything else.
A Dog’s Journey is a sequel to 2017’s A Dog’s Purpose, which was a preposterous global hit, earning $205 million across the planet, most of it outside North America, on a $22 million budget. (Everyone loves dogs!) So if you, like me, saw some marketing for Journey and felt it was very very familiar seeming — like, Didn’t we see this already?! Hasn’t this movie already been released?! — that it why. They made pretty much the same movie all over again — or, well, in fact, W. Bruce Cameron wrote the same book all over again, and it got adapted for the screen — and marketed it in pretty much the same way. Success of this sort is not to be messed with.
Purpose was all about how a boy who grew into Dennis Quaid (Truth, Movie 43) was cute-stalked through his entire life by a dog called Bailey (the voice of Josh Gad: Murder on the Orient Express, Beauty and the Beast), who, every time he died and was reborn into a different doggy body (which was a lot, because puppers don’t live very long compared to humans), tried to get back to Quaid’s Ethan, a farmer in Michigan. Because he just loved Ethan so gosh-darn much! Now, in Journey, Ethan has commanded the latest reincarnation of Bailey — because Ethan has sorta caught on to what’s happening with the doggo(es) — to watch over his step-granddaughter CJ (played mostly, as a teen and young woman, by Kathryn Prescott: Fun Mom Dinner). Which Bailey does, life after life, whether he is a big shaggy dog or a little purse dog, or even whether he is a girl dog without a [censored] between his legs, though he always has Gad’s boy voice. (I think this movie’s most mild, most oblique of references to dog penises is what the MPAA rating means by “rude humor.” That’s almost cute.)
I’m not sure movies get more inoffensively inoffensive than Journey, in which even people who are broke and desperate — that would be CJ — somehow end up living on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan with their cosmically devoted pooches by their side. In the pleasant daydreamy world of this movie, there isn’t anything that a canine friend cannot put right, from grief and trauma to potentially fatal illness, such as cancer, as CJ’s bestie Trent (adorable Henry Lau) endures. People may suffer the biggest, most profound of problems here, and yet all is put right as long as a dog is by one’s side.
Is that even inaccurate though? I’m not crying you’re crying.