You’ll want to find your own way home.
Synopsis: A Dog’s Way Home chronicles the heartwarming adventure of Bella, a dog who embarks on an epic 400-mile journey home after she is separated from her beloved human. (Sony Pictures)
Starring: Bryce Dallas Howard, Ashley Judd, and Jonah Hauer-King
Writers: W. Bruce Cameron and Cathryn Michon
Director: Charles Martin Smith
Rating: G (Canada)/PG (United States)
Running Time: 96mins
Most people like dogs. This is clear so it only makes sense for films to leverage this in their favor. For as long as there has been film, there have been dog films, plenty of them for that matter. While most of them have not necessarily been good, dog films still get made. Nearly 2 years after the controversial A Dog’s Purpose, here comes A Dog’s Way Home, the next film in a series of books by W. Bruce Cameron. Just like A Dog’s Purpose and most other dog films, it coasts on the dog itself for better or worse, offering little to nothing else. The dog will surely be enough of a distraction for some, however, others will be left wanting more.
For the most part, the film’s trailers and title pretty much reveal what happens here, a dog finds their way home. For that it somewhat succeeds but it also fails to offer much of a coherent story beyond that. As mentioned, the story is incredibly predictable, forcing the relationship between a young man named Lucas (Hauer-King), his mother Terri (Judd), and their dog Bella (Howard) in a very contrived and emotionally manipulative way while building up other subplots which touched some important issues such as supporting veterans and homelessness and then dropping all of them in favor of Bella’s journey back home to Lucas and Terri.
Enjoyment of this film will rest on the likability of Bella since the film goes all in on her. Unfortunately, she was not set up to succeed first with Howard being miscast as Bella and the dialog being truly horrendous. With Bella narrating just about everything for no reason, your patience will definitely be tested. It expects us to care about her without ever earning it. This only creates a disconnect between us and Bella which makes a relatively short film feel twice as long. She wasn’t exactly in a rush to get home either, having one too many encounters with a few insignificant human characters and some obvious CGI animals along the way. Ultimately, Bella was merely an annoying character who was tiring to watch. The overuse of supposedly uplifting cheesy pop covers didn’t exactly help either.
If there was one saving grace here, it was its cinematography. It’s shots of Vancouver masquerading as Colorado were beautiful to look at but it was a shame that nothing more interesting happened. With Bella getting the bulk of the spotlight here, there wasn’t much other acting to be had. Despite being wasted, Hauer-King was okay as Lucas, however, the biggest shame was its wasting of Judd as Terri. Both Lucas and Terri were interesting enough as characters before the film abandoned them.
Overall, A Dog’s Way Home was a predictable, contrived, emotionally-manipulative, tonal mess with horrendous dialog, and an incredibly annoying lead character but at least it’s a dog and people like dogs. To a lot of people, they can overlook this, however, others will find this a tiring, seemingly never-ending slog that makes a relatively short film feel twice as long. The streak of subpar live-action dog films continues. Just watch Isle of Dogs.