A Dog's Purpose

by Michael Cox

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday May 12, 2017

A Dog's Purpose

In 1985, Lasse Hallstrom directed film called "My Life as a Dog," an oddball coming-of-age story about a boy who learns about being human by empathizing with the life of a doomed dog -- Laika, the Russian canine sent into orbit on a suicide mission as a part of their space program. That critically acclaimed classic established the career of the filmmaker as a director of quirky humor and a lot of heart.

Flash forward to Hallstrom's latest film (now available on home release), "A Dog's Purpose." This adaptation of W. Bruce Cameron's bestselling novel is a metaphysical meditation that assumes a dog's soul transforms over the course of many lifetimes to serve humanity.

The story follows one particular dog's soul (voiced by Josh Gad) who looks for the meaning of its own existence. The primary manifestation of this is as Bailey, a golden retriever who grows up with a boy named Ethan in the 1960s. Over the course of this lifetime, Bailey helps Ethan deal with his alcoholic father, introduces him to the love of his life, and saves the boy from a burning house. But Ethan goes away to college and leaves Bailey, and when he does, the boy grows up to become a lonely man.

The dog's soul continues as Ellie, an heroic police dog in 1970s Chicago who tracks down criminals, makes death-defying rescues, and eventually loses her life in the line of duty. The canine returns as Tino, a lap dog whose training would absolutely horrify Cesar Millan, the Dog Whisperer, but who still looks for his purpose in life and wonders about his human soul mate Ethan.

When the dog's soul is reincarnated as Buddy, he is certain that his life will be meaningless. Owned by a remissive woman and an abusive man, Buddy is tied up in the yard and neglected for most of his life. Finally, he is dumped in the railway yard to die as a stray. But in this lifetime Buddy will make his way back to Ethan and help him to right the great wrong of his lifetime.

Here Hallstrom favors pop-theory, platitudes and sentimental aphorisms, like "Humans are complicated. They do things dogs don't understand, like leaving" us behind. The humanity of "My Life as a Dog" is given over to archetypes, and worse, stereotypes. And the element that gives this film its unique charm is also what makes it annoying and cloying - namely, the dog's voiceover narration. Cameron can only beat us over the head with his "look how funny my dog's perception of the world" humor so long.

This Blu-ray Combo Pack has two nice featurettes, one about shooting a movie with dogs as the main characters and one about the writer and why this book was so popular, (a fact that eludes me). The Blu-ray also includes deleted scenes and outtakes.

"A Dog's Purpose"

Blu-ray Combo Pack