In 2010, W. Bruce Cameron wrote a novel that was a love letter of sorts addressing the friendship between man and his “best friend” the dog. “A Dog’s Purpose” chronicled via first-person/doggie narrative the various breed reincarnations of a dog, the various lives he lived with his different owners, and his childlike but wise perspective of his world. It was good enough to be adapted into film by Universal, Amblin and Walden Media in 2017, only to be hit by an animal cruelty controversy rooted in a deliberately malicious doctored video. It still made enough to warrant a sequel, based on Cameron’s second book about the further reincarnating adventures of “A Dog’s Journey,” as titled.
While the story of “A Dog’s Purpose” was a worthy tear-jerker especially for dog lovers and pet owners, its overall narrative was somewhat disjointed. With each of his reincarnations Bailey the dog (voiced in all his canine naiveté by Josh Gad) lives a different live with a different owner with somewhat different moods. And while he carries some skills from each past life to help with his next, the plot does not quite have an overarching arc save for his friendship with a Michigan boy named Ethan (Dennis Quaid), who named him Bailey, and their eventual reunion – Ethan an old man and Bailey another breed.
This is not so with “A Dog’s Journey.” There is an immediate and encompassing narrative in the sequel that ties the reincarnating doggie lives together. Sometime after their reunion, Bailey and Ethan are living in the latter’s farm with Ethan’s wife and childhood sweetheart Hannah (Marg Helgenberger), along with Gloria (Betty Gilpin) the widow of their son, and their granddaughter CJ. As a young widowed mother, Gloria is ineptly irresponsible, but her parents-in-law’s well-meaning attempts to help her raise CJ only ends in resentment that pushes her to move away.
By that time Bailey, who grew to befriend CJ as the youngest of his “pack,” was failing from old age. As he gets euthanized in Ethan’s arms his cross-life friend, who has suspicions of his reincarnating lives, asks the dog to look after CJ in his next one. Thus begins the titular journey of Bailey as he experiences new experiences while fortuitously running into CJ at various points in her life, from childhood to young adulthood (Kathryn Prescott). Once again, audiences who see their dogs as “forever friends” are bound to run out of tissues.
Summary aside, what would appeal or turn off viewers of “A Dog’s Journey” would be the same elements that featured in its predecessor over 2 years ago. The movie is viewed from the various eyes and identities of Bailey. While his Josh Gad voice might call to mind Olaf from Disney’s “Frozen,” his sheer doglike/childlike innocence regarding the people and situations around him verges on “blue and orange morality” at times that it can be off-putting. It may have served to make Bailey’s character approachable for young viewers, but still it might grate some nerves.
It is the human cast that we fall on once the dog’s personality wears out. Dennis Quaid is quite charming in reprising his role as Ethan, the boy who made the first meaningful connection with the dog he named Bailey (it is the name he gives him that the dog remembers across different lives and names). Helgenberger takes over Peggy Lipton as Hannah the love of Ethan’s life, though this time her character revolves also on doting upon CJ. The toddler and child portrayals were great but CJ’s primary adult age as played by Prescott was equal parts sweet and mature, independent yet still romantic. Thankfully that is where her childhood friend/love interest Trent (Henry Lau) comes in the tale. Gilpin is remarkably menacing as Gloria, the ungrateful daughter-in-law and pseudo-abusive parent who is actually venting from bereavement and abandonment.
And through it all it is the same (or maybe not breed-wise) dog that can be overbearingly “doggy” that ties their lives together with his reincarnations (less than “A Dog’s Purpose) and actions. At the risk of spoiling I will also say that this serves as a great conclusion to the story of Bailey, though again dog owners will be happy to see this particular forever friend one more time.
Image courtesy of Cinema Blend