A Dog's Purpose, C
Rated PG, 120 minutes
Animal abuse allegations have dogged (no pun intended) the icky sweet family dramedy "A Dog's Purpose," which is unfortunate as it likely would've been a sleeper hit with families and kids. The pooches are indeed lovable and steal the show from its overly sentimental, bland storytelling and remind us it's always better to be a dog than cat.
A devoted dog (voice of Josh Gad) discovers the meaning of its own existence through the lives of the humans it teaches to laugh and love. Reincarnated as multiple canines (and as a boy and girl - Bailey, Buddy, Tino and Ellie) over the course of five decades, the lovable pooch develops an unbreakable bond with a kindred spirit named Ethan (Bryce Gheisar as a kid, K.J. Apa, teen Dennis Quaid, adult). As Ethan grows older and comes to a crossroad, the dog once again comes back into his life to remind him of his true self.
Directed by Lasse Hallstrom of "Cider House Rules" and "The Hundred-Foot Journey," and based on W. Bruce Cameron's (who also co-wrote the screenplay) novel of the same name, the mawkishly pleasant, manipulative "A Dog's Purpose" has little purpose and bite except to run, fetch and make you cry in a moment's notice, which you'll do sooner than you can say "good dog."
The film follows Gad's dog reincarnated as several different breeds throughout the film, with the most memorable when he is a golden retriever - in the first act as Bailey and again in the last act as Buddy, when he is with his true human owner Ethan, played at different points, lastly by Quaid as the older Ethan. Gad is an enjoyably bland inner dog voice, narrating the film from the dog's point of view, a nice touch that's slightly better than the lackluster, maudlin storyline.
It's all suitable for the family, but just a note: if you bring young kids (younger than 10), be prepared to have additional explanations of life and death, as it's peppered with small doses of the end of life. The film's portrayal of canines is also positive, but not exactly well-rounded, with only a few larger breeds represented (it would've been extra fun having Gad as a poodle or dachshund) and with cats again portrayed in a negative light - so sorry to all those cat people.
Many animal lovers will likely boycott the film altogether due to the abuse allegations, which isn't entirely fair, but still not a bad idea given that the film, even with a few sniffly moments requiring extra tissues, is not exactly the most satisfying bone in the bag. Every dog has its day, but they deserve better than the overly sweet, calculated "A Dog's Purpose."