“A Dog’s Purpose” is a poor rehashing of a dog’s various reincarnated lives, rushed and brought to fruition all too soon. The “purpose” of the movie was to show the viewers how an anthropomorphized dog learns the meaning of life through each new incarnation of himself. It all comes together in the end, as his purpose was seemingly to bring the now older Hannah (Brit Robertson) back to Ethan (Dennis Quaid), but inbetween was an interesting mix of heartbreak and nostalgia for your childhood pet.
The film attempts to soften the blow as each dog met his or her end, either by gunshot or by euthanasia, showing you the next clip of them coming back to life as an adorable, new puppy. But all I was thinking as the dog was reborn was, “Am I going to have to suffer through that again?”
For most of the film, I was caught between finding the attempts at humor and mediocre acting charming, and finding that the dog’s narration got silly and repetitive after a while. And it was clear that the movie was outright manipulating its viewers into feeling the bond with the newly-reincarnated pup. To see it die all over again was supposed to be a good thing as the dog would find its new purpose. Clearly, this implication didn’t go over well with everyone, especially movie critics.
Even before seeing the film, some disliked it after watching the leaked clip of the distraught German Shepherd being forced into rushing waters for a scene in the movie.* This is especially insulting to its viewers because of how hypocritical this seems, being as there was some animal neglect in the film and was only slightly scolded for this. However, the scenes of neglect were very brief and, soon after, “Bailey” was reunited with Ethan.
The movie used the book “A Dog’s Purpose” by W. Bruce Cameron as the basis for the film, and used Josh Gad to voice the thoughts of the dog, which were mostly comprised of philosophical questions we all have, like: “Why are we here?” But for the purpose of this movie, it seemed to fall short coming out of the mind of a dog and leading to the assumption that all dogs seem to think this deeply about life. The rest of the movie was supposed to answer this question by killing the dog repeatedly, and making it come back wiser.
The film becomes more rushed as it goes on, beginning first with Ethan’s family and creating a strong bond between Ethan and the dog through undertones of alcoholism from his father throughout. This led to a poorly-acted drama-filled family scene later on.
Then, the dog becomes a German Shepherd police dog by the name of Ellie. The dog was shot, which was painful for everyone in the theater to watch. Next was Tito, owned by a girl named Maya (Kirby Howell-Baptiste), who the dog helped to eventually make a family. The last reincarnation was Buddy, who finally was reunited with Ethan (as an adult).
While some parts I appreciated as a dog-lover (I enjoyed reminiscing about playing with my dog in the backyard and hope that my dog can smell my grief and will one day help me meet my soulmate), other parts I just wanted to end. The multiple deaths of these poor dogs sort of sucked the profound and sweet essence of the movie out, and left nothing for the viewers to hold onto and enjoy.
*UPDATE: According to a third-party investigation and the American Humane Society, the viral video was proven to be faked.