A Dog's Purpose
Canine reincarnation is the premise of this baldly manipulative and cornball drama
The US release of A Dog's Purpose was overshadowed when a leaked video emerged depicting a distressed German Shepherd being submerged in choppy water during the film's shoot. Although the American Humane Association concluded that the footage had been misleadingly edited, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) have maintained their objections, leading to an apology from the film's producer Gavin Polone.
This controversy almost certainly damaged A Dog's Purpose at the box office, since Lasse Hallström's drama is aimed squarely at animal lovers. A slice of 'petsploitation' based on a book by W Bruce Cameron, it features a dog reincarnation angle which allows for tear-jerking canine demises at regular intervals. Voiced by Josh Gad – best known as snowman Olaf in Frozen – a wild puppy called Toby is swiftly euthanised and reborn as Bailey, a quarterback's farm dog in the 60s. Bailey dies, only to come back as Ellie, a tough Chicago police dog who takes a bullet for her handler, then becoming Tino, a Corgi owned by a lovesick student in Atlanta. Born yet again as a Saint Bernard called Waffles, the canine protagonist is eventually reunited with Bailey's grown-up owner, now played by Dennis Quaid.
Every bit as cornball as that synopsis sounds, A Dog's Purpose is baldly and painfully manipulative of its audience's emotions. Laboured slapstick, romantic clichés and heavy-handed lessons abound, while Bailey's ongoing search for his spiritual purpose always feels more like a human's idea of a life problem than an animal's.
Hallström is well-qualified for this kind of schmaltzy assignment, having directed two movies based on novels by Nicolas Sparks (Dear John, Safe Haven), as well as the superior canine flick Hachi: A Dog's Tale. The veteran director gives a professional gloss to A Dog's Purpose, but all the skill in the world can't make this dog's dinner palatable.