Describing the story of A Dog’s Purpose is a difficult challenge, not only because there’s very little to describe, but also because you’re going to have a hard time believing what I’m about to say. Its narrative is split into a series of separate short films in a way, each revolving around a dog that gets magically reincarnated over and over. This dog is voiced by Josh Gad, but before you start comparing the film to all your favourite animated dog movies, just know that the dog in this movie doesn’t talk. Well, not really, anyway. Gad provides voiceover, one added seemingly at the last minute in order to make sense of the movie’s bewildering premise. Kids have to know what’s going on as well, you guys.
Bailey’s story begins like any other… with the dog nearly dying of thirst before being kidnapped by a little kid. I really wish I were making this up, guys. In what’s supposed to be a pleasant, kind hearted love letter to dogs, the first 10 minutes opens with vandalism, the death of a puppy, robbery and an alcoholic father melodramatically played by Luke Kirby. This film truly has it all. It’s here that we’re introduced to Ethan. His younger self, who first adopts/steals the adorable Bailey, is played by Bryce Cheisar, while the teenage version of his character, introduced through a weird CGI time jump in which a flat football transforms into a fully pumped up one, is played by Riverdale’s K.J. Apa. Neither of them brings much to the character of Bailey. Apa’s performance feels a little more nuanced, but he’s unable to make this film’s unbelievably awful writing work on screen.
It’s no spoiler to reveal that, with young Ethan’s story coming to an end, Baily, unfortunately, passes away. Watching a dog die on film, no matter how good or bad that movie may be, is no easy task. This first death scene, since the opening puppy death is best left unmentioned, is emotional. Sure, everything else about Ethan and Bailey’s story is generic, bland and feels as though it was filmed overnight at a studio backlot, but the dog’s death is handled with grace. Manipulative and over-extended grace, but grace nonetheless. A scene that takes place not too long beforehand, too, is also stuffed with a great deal of heart, but everything after this initial death scene is where the film moves from mediocre to downright terrible.
Alas, everything must happen for a reason (I guess?), and the film comes full circle and full supernatural and its fourth and final story. There’s only so many times I can sit through a dog dying on screen, and by the time the final story came around, I was incredibly glad. While it may start out with a tale that’s borderline dog abuse, it soon evolves into a continuation and conclusion to Ethan’s story, now played by Denis Quaid. By the time this story comes around, you’re meant to feel a joyous, emotional sensation, but all I was able to feel was boredom. It’s the sappiest, weirdest and stupidest story of them all, ending the film on a seemingly uplifting but ultimately creepy note.
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