Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 July 2019

Review: Bring your tissues, 'A Dog's Journey' will likely leave you sobbing

The film follows the events after 2017's 'A Dog's Purpose' and sees Dennis Quaid's character take on a supporting role

Dennis Quaid in 'A Dog's Journey'. Courtesy Universal Pictures
Dennis Quaid in 'A Dog's Journey'. Courtesy Universal Pictures

Whether it was Lassie, Benji or Old Yeller, Hollywood has always loved a dog movie. Two years ago, Lasse Hallstrom’s film, A Dog’s Purpose, revived this old-fashioned trend, becoming a surprise hit as it took $204 million (Dh749m) globally. The story of a dog whose spirit is reincarnated through several canine bodies – voiced all the way by Josh Gad – was as sentimental as a Hallmark greetings card, but it touched a nerve, and not just with the legions of dog lovers the world over.

Now comes the inevitable sequel, A Dog’s Journey, which serves up more of the same – and you’re still likely to find yourself sniffing into your handkerchief. Incoming director Gail Mancuso, a two-time Emmy winner for her work on the sharp sitcom Modern Family, sticks rigorously to the formula. Gad is back, once again narrating, and so is Dennis Quaid, as Michigan salt-of-the-earth dog owner Ethan.

Picking up where the last film left off, Quaid’s Ethan is now married to his childhood sweetheart Hannah (Marg Helgenberger) and the focus turns to Hannah’s toddler granddaughter, CJ (Abby Ryder Fortson). Ethan’s pooch Bailey, a St. Bernard-Australian Shepherd cross he affectionately calls “boss dog”, is nearing the end of his life, but shortly before he passes away, Ethan orders Bailey’s spirit to keep watch over the young CJ.

With the child soon in Chicago with mother Gloria (Glow’s Betty Gilpin) – the widow of Hannah’s late son – Bailey takes this as his life’s mission. Never mind the narrative contrivance, but he’s soon reborn as a beagle puppy named Molly and – as luck would have it – falls into the arms of the now 11 year-old CJ. Which is just as well, as Gloria is a terrible mother – a serial dater who leaves her child alone at night.

Initially hiding Molly from her mother, CJ’s only other company is Trent (played by Ian Chen, and later Hong Kong-Canadian pop star Henry Lau), a fellow dog lover who, like Bailey/Molly etc, will follow CJ through her life. Subtle this is not, but the notion that in life there are soulmates who travel with us, be they pets or humans, is a strong theme in the film.

By the time CJ comes of age (now played by Kathryn Prescott, best known for British teen drama Skins), emotional troubles begin to form like clouds. There’s a bad-seed boyfriend (Jake Manley) on the horizon, and then there’s that matriarchal relationship that just keeps deteriorating. Eventually, CJ will head to New York, and Bailey’s spirit will reappear as a Yorkshire terrier named Max.

Adapted from the novel by W Bruce Cameron, who is one of four credited writers cooking up the script, the story’s episodic nature means that we’ve just fallen in love with one dog, and then we’re asked to shift our affections to another. Well, that’s life, we’re told. But for a family film, there’s an awful lot of heartbreak to take in. This is a film that trades in tragedy like chips at a casino table.

A scene from 'A Dog's Journey'. Courtesy Universal Studios
A scene from 'A Dog's Journey'. Courtesy Universal Studios

If all the doggy deaths aren’t enough, there’s even a cancer subplot – involving one of the human characters – to further twang those heartstrings. Fortunately, Gad’s vocal performance will keep you smiling; there’s a naive, innocent quality that he brings to his words, as we look at the world through the eyes of a dog, who is usually thinking first and foremost about filling his belly with bacon.

While Quaid is relegated to a supporting role here – and sequences where he’s aged up don’t really convince – he’s still a solid presence and is credible as the owner who always seems to sense when Bailey has been reincarnated. The real heavy-lifting comes from Prescott and Lau, who take centrestage as the best friends who harbor strong feelings for each other under the surface.

Nothing about A Dog’s Journey is complex or layered here; the narrative resolutions are signposted a mile off. But for parents who want to teach their young children about mortality – something many of us learn as kids through owning pets – this is a film, like its predecessor, that does its job with simple elegance. The film’s final shots, spiritual in nature, will leave audiences sobbing. Now pass that hanky please.

Updated: May 16, 2019 03:46 PM

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