So to recap on the controversy that surrounded A Dog’s Purpose, some footage was released of handlers on set allegedly mistreating a dog, later this year the footage was revealed as fake. Got that, good, now no further talk of it for now and let’s get on with it.
I enjoy reviewing family films, it’s a chance to tone down and not break down a film to its core, there is however an exception to this where a family film’s themes and emotional portrayal of characters is so strong that one can’t help but resist. These type of family films are normally the ones that become instant household classics, A Dog’s Purpose however only creates the illusion of a household classic whilst still retaining the tone of a light, not to be taken serious film.
What first struck me as surprising was the story structure. I had not seen this type of narrative foundation since I saw the 1994 film from Hong Kong Chungking Express (one of my all-time favourite films). It has multiple stories featuring different character that have something that can connect them together and change something about them, in Chungking Express it was the snack bar. In the case of A Dog’s Purpose it is the soul of a dog who goes by the name Bailey who in this world reincarnated into another dog. To tell multiple conjoining stories in a family film is quite a bold move on the filmmaker’s behalf. Family films usually follow a very simple narrative structure so that kids can follow the film with ease. But to make a complex story structure that has the same results is credible.
Josh Gad voices Bailey and truly brings to life the dogs emotions and the dogs simple-minded nature and thoughts fits perfectly with the tone of his voice. The human characters are vast and broad, they are essential in portraying the many different lives a dog would live from caring to neglectful owners. Our main human is a character named Ethan whom Bailey take a shine towards throughout his many various lives. All three actors who portray Ethan are just as good as each other in showing us the various stages of a human’s lifetime, however, credit must go to KJ Apa who we see as Ethan in his teenage years.
The most impactful moments of Ethan’s life happen through his teenage period such as first love, divorce, moving away etc. and KJ Apa makes all those moments feel a little more powerful by showing the difference in his relationship with Bailey clearly. I’d say that each character has its own tiny character arc within confined stories. I applaud the writers and director Lasse Hallström for being able to make the many owners of Bailey feel engaging.
A Dog’s Purpose, much like the featured dog Bailey, has one single-minded purpose, to make audiences cry. From a critical perspective, this appears to be a very simple, very crafty way of getting some cheap emotional reactions from an audience. A Dog’s purpose does seem to use this emotional weakness within ourselves and use it to its advantage but to see this one must be incredibly observant and look beyond the film on the screen. If you are easily manipulative and you’re aware of that, you’ll be leaving the cinema thinking that you thoroughly enjoyed A Dog’s Purpose, its only when you put the pieces together that they start to break apart at the same time.
The conclusion to the film was one of the weaker points, while it appears to end with a great moral message, what the film has mistakenly done is contradict itself in a way where the 2nd and 3rd stories in A Dog’s Purpose never mattered to the character development of Bailey. Speaking of which, the two stories that were just mentioned are also the shortest and I would have personally given each an equivalent running time, we could have had more time fleshing out the human characters rather than Bailey who at this point has become understandable. Whilst the characters maybe engaging, it doesn’t mean they’re not meaningful.
From a filmmaker’s perspective, they are a number first person shots from the perspective of Bailey, this seems like a sensible idea as this entire film is in the eyes of Bailey, however, many these shots are very unnecessary and there are certain camera movements such as quick pans within artificial lighting that make the film feel cheap and budget restricted.
By the end of the year, some critics may call this the most manipulative film of the year, this will be a hard topic to argue against because the positives you say can easily be turned into counterpoints by people who have rating this film poorly, A Dog’s Purpose was never meant to garner such interest from the film and news world after its leaked video and maybe if this hadn’t happened, the film would have flown under people’s radar, and maybe that would have been for the best as this film openly give characters less importance to the development of Bailey and has acquired a golden key to people tear ducts. But at least the kids will be happy.
Final Result: 5/10 – Average
Have you seen A Dog’s Purpose? What did you think? Please let me know your thoughts and opinions in the comments below.
Next Time: Alien: Covenant