A Dog’s Way Home is unapologetically feel-good while unabashedly going for the heartstrings from the get-go. You can revel in that or be nauseated by it, but it serves its purpose as a play-it-safe family-friendly picture for parents to watch with their kids.
A Dog’s Way Home doesn’t regret any second of going right for the heartstrings when our hero “Pitbull” Bella comes on the screen (not actually a Pitbull, but a term used for nuisance dogs within the city’s limits). It is not embarrassed or ashamed of it; in fact, it revels in it. A throwback to early-90’s family films like Homeward Bound, it brought me back to family outings to the movie theatre as a kid. We have all grown up since then, our tastes have evolved, so you can let the film manipulate you to its heart’s content or be nauseated by it. It’s just all up to your personal tastes or maybe more accurately where you are in your life.
Most films, from cartoons to hard-hitting dramas, are products of the times we live in. There is no exception with films like A Dog’s Way Home, which touches on issues of racial inequality, today’s immigration laws, mental health, and the amount of children waiting to be adopted is at an all-time high in the United States since 2008. They are easy to spot, and not at all obscured as deeper hidden meanings. Author and screenwriter W. Bruce Cameron (author of the New York Times Bestseller A Dog’s Purpose and the Jack Kerouac of canine fiction) practically hits you in the face with it so you can’t possibly miss it.
The film was directed by character actor Charles Martin Smith (Untouchables, Never Cry Wolf, and the Dolphin Tale series) who has been directing films since the early nineties. His film is filled with cute one-liners from Bella (voiced with childlike innocence by Bryce Dallas Howard) who essentially says whatever pops in her head with wonderment, making cute observations (when at a Veterans Affair hospital, she notices the residents “wear tags just like me”) that amount to a handful of episodes of the defunct CBS show Kids Say the Darndest Things. For all the cuteness, however, the film does lag at a sparse 90 minutes as the shtick can be repetitive, while 99% of the cast has nothing to work with in terms of a script.
A Dog’s Way Home is a January release, so it can be concluded that it is being cast-off like a buried news story in the Saturday morning paper (the least-read news day of the week). The film is unapologetically feel-good while unabashedly manipulating your feelings, even though it is hard to knock a film that serves up cats and dogs living peacefully while giving each other endless Eskimo kisses. It does serve its purpose as a play-it-safe family-friendly picture for parents to watch with their kids after a season of comic book films, gross-out buddy-comedies, or hard-hitting dramas about, say, a hitman murdering people with a hammer. There is nothing here you can’t find streaming to save a few bucks (or just watch the trailer 30 times in a row, you really don’t miss a single thing since the trailer gives everything away – not that you couldn’t figure that out already from the title) however. At least you know what you are getting going in, which is saying a lot these days.
M.N. Miller has been a film and television writer for Ready Steady Cut since August of 2018 and is patiently waiting for the next Pearl Jam album to come out.