Answering that question about where do dogs go after they pass, is Gail Mancuso’s A Dog's Journey. Based on W. Bruce Cameron’s book, this sequel continues the success of A Dog's Purpose, and follows the single-minded quest of a dog as he fulfils his promise through the many lives he reincarnates into.
Yes, that’s right. A dog doesn’t automatically cross the Rainbow Bridge until he fulfills his quest to his owner, and Bailey (voiced by Josh Gad) gets tasked by his owner Ethan (Dennis Quaid) with taking care of his granddaughter CJ (Emma Volk). The reason? His daughter-in-law Gloria (Betty Gilpin) isn’t exactly the model mother after her husband dies prematurely in a car accident.
Upset by how she is viewed (however accurately) by her in-laws, Gloria packs up and leaves the farm house, and worried for CJ’s safety, Ethan decides upon that request for his loyal companion. And does this dog take his promises seriously!
A Dog's Journey is a complicated one, even though the creature is kept naive. This is clearly a dog lover’s treat, showcasing the loyalty and simple nature of man’s best friend through charming vignettes. From referring to kissing as “licking faces”, to adopting actions for the reason of getting a treat, when actually he’s being scent-trained, Bailey keeps the awww going with his gullible actions that invariably leads to good things happening.
But not all that happens in the film is good. From a mother with substance abuse to a serious illness, the tone of the movie could have gone easily south, if not for the aid of a score that keeps levity, and a canine lead that infuses the scenes with his enthusiasm.
This mostly works, though the script at part feels a little disconnected - a possible byproduct of having four writers working on it (in this case Cameron himself, along with Wallace Wolodarsky, Cathryn Michon and Maya Forbes). There are scenes which hardly build upon an investment before an event tragically ends things abruptly. And because the passage of time is not as clearly edited, there is also some emotional catching up to do for some segments.
Luckily, the nature of the film, clearly establishes its genre as a lighthearted entertainment, and keeps the focus on its job through the dog’s perspective, replete with its witticisms. And again, some may find this formula a little trite, but animal lovers will lap it up for its glorious portrayal of an owner and his pet’s incredible and special bond.
Questions might certainly pop up for you during the film. Like why Gad continues to voice Bailey when he returns as a female dog Molly. Or how he is able to communicate and think with such clarity, while other pets just seem like… well, pets. They are there for sure, partly because the premise is already an imagined scenario, but again, the conditions set by the film allow for one to let these slide, as we see the dog go through incarnations and recollect his missions with glee.
Truth be told, the characters can be a little cookie-cutter. Trent (Henry Lau) as CJ’s best childhood friend is incredibly one-note, and Gloria’s narcissism is incredibly incorrigible (one later copied by a passing girlfriend of Trent’s). Thankfully, we are treated to the wonderful grandparents Ethan and Hannah, acted by the incredible Quaid and Marg Helgenberger. Every scene they appear in tugs at our hearts, and their incredible chemistry makes some of the passing scenes very memorable as well.
A Dog's Journey goes along with the many hoops and lives Bailey jumps through to fulfill his mission, but it also stretches over the many human problems we face that deserve a perspective change. From family relations to inheritance dispute, being friendzoned to loving the wrong people, lack of ambition to fear of failure, the issues presented each get a healthy dose of what-if through Bailey’s innocent musings. And it works.
Indeed, it does make us think why we complicate our lives as much, when all we need is a straightforward answer or action. More than just a few times, Bailey’s musings go beyond an instinctual response, to a more philosophical one, testing our values and belief system. Some may think animals basic in their simplistic routines and behaviour, but we forget how much by observing ourselves to social rules that we overconvolute with reasonings.
A Dog's Journey can work on many levels. As family entertainment, the cute meter will surely skyrocket with the kids. As an animal flick, the reaffirmation of the dog - its value, place and position in society - is definitely a welcome message. For everybody else, this feel-good flick eases easily into a safe enjoyable watch, with a nice round-up at the end to make everything come full circle.
The film could do with some extra teeth for greater emotional payback, but with golden fields, tilted heads, wagging tails and heartwarming reunions, A Dog's Journey fulfills its roles as a worthy sequel, and deserves - like Bailey - to cross that Rainbow Bridge.