You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘A Dog’s Journey’

Canine reincarnation is once more the narrative throughline of this gloopy, goofy, mostly good-natured sequel to 'A Dog's Purpose.'

Gail Mancuso
Josh Gad (voice), Kathryn Prescott, Betty Gilpin, Dennis Quaid, Marg Helgenberger
Release Date:
May 17, 2019

Rated PG  1 hour 48 minutes

Official Site: http://www.adogsjourneymovie.com

You know things are bad for women in Hollywood when there’s one female dog featured in canine cutefest “A Dog’s Journey,” and it still gets to be voiced by Josh Gad. That is, admittedly, an unavoidable consequence of this family franchise’s curious Buddhism-for-beginners premise: the idea that one mind and soul can be carried through the bodies of multiple mutts over the course of eternity, with Gad as our perky spiritual ferry through repeated rounds of Rover reincarnation. As if to compensate, Gail Mancuso’s blandly agreeable sequel to the boy-focused 2017 hit “A Dog’s Purpose” reorients its human narrative around a young woman’s troubled road to love and self-fulfilment — via the trusty companionship of various devoted pups.

That aside, fans of the first film will be delighted to find the formula pretty much untweaked, with a steady stream of corn-syrup sentiment binding what would otherwise amount to a feature-length montage of adorable doggy reaction GIFs. Like the first film — which grossed over $200 million worldwide despite early controversy over on-set animal treatment — “A Dog’s Journey” largely succeeds in spite of its own ickiest instincts. Even as its storytelling hovers on the border between capable and risible, the film knows exactly which dog-lover buttons to push, particularly those nearest the tear ducts. Replacing “Purpose” director Lasse Hallström (who retains an executive producer credit) to make a rather anonymous debut feature, Emmy-winning TV veteran Mancuso (“Modern Family,” “Roseanne”) offers less prettified styling and more sitcom-style beats. Commercially, it should bark up equivalent numbers to its predecessor.

Once more drawn from a novel by W. Bruce Cameron — who has a hand in the screenplay, along with three other writers — the new film picks up more or less where the previous one left off, with Bailey, a regal St. Bernard-Australian Shepherd cross, living out his golden years on an idyllic Michigan farm with doting master Ethan (Dennis Quaid) and his wife Hannah (Marg Helgenberger). New to the family are Gloria (Betty Gilpin, fresh from her breakout in TV’s “Glow”), the (gasp) dog-agnostic widow of Hannah’s late son, and her infant daughter CJ, whose future upbringing is a bone of contention between Gloria and her oppressively wholesome in-laws. When Gloria finally leaves, whisking CJ off to Chicago, Bailey dies not long after: In the dog’s final moments, and certainly the film’s most unabashedly weepy scene, Ethan orders its wandering spirit to look after his granddaughter.

Popular on Variety

While this franchise steers clear of any clear political affiliation, conservative family values predominate: Single motherhood, in particular, gets an unfortunate bad rap as Gloria, having turned her back on Ethan and Hannah’s heartland haven, swiftly turns into an abusive, daytime-drinking harpy. Good thing Bailey — now in the guise of eager beagle Molly — is on hand to help 11-year-old CJ through her adolescent years, complete with bad boyfriend trouble, burgeoning singer-songwriter ambitions and the steadfast support of best friend Trent (played as a child by Ian Chen, and later by K-pop heartthrob Henry Lau). (He loves dogs himself, just in case it weren’t entirely clear that he’s The One.)

After finishing school and falling out with her mom, it’s off to New York City for CJ, now played by appealing Brit actress Kathryn Prescott, of “Skins” fame. There, a different Bailey carrier — feisty Yorkshire terrier Max — sees her through assorted personal crises, all while nudging proceedings toward their plain-as-day, home-sweet-home conclusion. Along the way, the rather cluttered script goes through some high-stakes narrative pivots that subsequently leave almost no mark at all: A sudden, momentary shift into stalker-thriller territory is jarring, while the brisk introduction and resolution of a whole cancer subplot in ten minutes flat must be some kind of industry record.

Still, these are the few adult-oriented elements of Cameron’s novel that have survived the stringently PG-minded adaptation; darker, more intriguing themes of suicide and eating disorders have been shed like a dog’s winter coat. After all, it’d be hard to write pooch-perspective wisecracks about such matters, and harder still for Gad to deliver them in his constant, mollifying tone of aw-shucks optimism. Cameron’s books may not have been for children, but their film versions know on which side their doggy biscuits are buttered. That’s probably for the best, given the overall glibness of the human drama here, though Gilpin deserves credit for trying to carve some emotional complexities into her lightly drawn villain.

Otherwise, the bounding canine ensemble takes the prize for, well, best in show: The endless quips about bacon and butt-sniffing may wear thin, but it’s hard to take no joy in a film that treats a jowly boerboel chasing after a receding car much like a melodrama heroine left yearning on a train platform, as Mark Isham’s thick, stringtastic score slobbers away in the background. One wishes the film were a bit more inventive with its dog’s-eye view: the odd ground-level action shot aside, there isn’t much to cinematically suggest how animals see the world differently. (Surely a sequence that places one of Bailey’s incarnations in a recovery cone is crying out for a POV-based visual gag.) Mostly, however, “A Dog’s Journey” is content simply to point out how our furry friends are so like us — or, at the very least, a lot like Josh Gad.

Film Review: 'A Dog's Journey'

Reviewed at Cineworld Wood Green, London, May 4, 2019. Running time: 108 MIN.

Production: A Universal Pictures release of an Amblin Entertainment, Reliance Entertainment presentation of a Pariah production in an association with Alibaba Pictures Group, Walden Media. Producer: Gavin Polone. Executive producers: Seth William Meier, Lasse Hallström, Luyuan Fan, Wei Zhang. Co-producers: Holly Bario, Ian Dimerman.

Crew: Director: Gail Mancuso. Screenplay: W. Bruce Cameron, Maya Forbes, Cathryn Michon, Wallace Wolodarsky, adapted from the novel by Cameron. Camera (color, widescreen): Rogier Stoffers. Editor: Robert Komatsu. Music: Mark Isham.

With: Josh Gad (voice), Kathryn Prescott, Betty Gilpin, Dennis Quaid, Marg Helgenberger, Abby Ryder Fortson, Henry Lau, Ian Chen, Conrad Coates, Jake Manley, Daniela Barbosa, Kevin Claydon.

More Film

  • Metoo Sundance The Glorias Zola On

    #MeToo Issues Continue to Make an Impact on Sundance Films

    If there were any doubts that the impact of sexual-harassment exposés­­ and backlash against them had died down, Oprah Winfrey put them to rest when she withdrew her name (and Apple’s distribution) from “On The Record,” a film about allegations against music execs Russell Simmons and L.A. Reid — just two weeks before its Sundance Film Festival premiere. Variety reached out to Winfrey and the [...]

  • Harvey Weinstein arrives at a Manhattan

    Harvey Weinstein's Request to Move Trial Out of NYC Is Denied (Again)

    An appeals court denied the second request from Harvey Weinstein’s legal team to move his trial out of New York City on Tuesday. Weinstein’s attorneys asked the Appellate Division last week to move the trial to Albany or Suffolk County, arguing it is impossible for him to get a fair trial due to the “carnival-like [...]

  • Adrian Rossi appears in Summer White

    Visit Films to Sell Sundance Player ‘Summer White’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    New York-based sales company Visit Films has acquired worldwide rights for Mexican feature “Summer White,” world premiering in Sundance’s World Cinema Dramatic Competition on Sunday Jan. 26. Visit will also be screening the film at Berlinale’s European Film, Market. Now a key North American sales company for Latin American films, Visit’s catalog includes other major [...]

  • Avengers Endgame

    4DX High-Tech Cinemas Break Box Office Records in 2019

    CJ 4DPLEX, the company behind multi-sensory 4DX cinema technology, has announced that it had a record-breaking 2019, grossing more than £246 million ($320 million) for 4DX worldwide. It was the best year yet for the groundbreaking format, marking a 12% increase from 2018’s record $286 million. The uptick is partly credited to booming revenues in [...]

  • Endeavor Content Studio Logo

    Endeavor Content, Exile Strike First-Look Deal With Mexican Producer Subtrama (EXCLUSIVE)

    Endeavor Content is upping its local-language game, signing a significant first look deal with Mexico City-based producer Subtrama. Endeavor enters the deal with Exile Content Studio, a long-form English and Spanish content maker. Subtrama is behind films like Gael García Bernal’s “Museo.” Mauricio Katz, Manuel Alcalá, and Panorama Global’s Gerardo Gatica and Alberto Muffelmann run [...]

  • Taylor Swift Variety Facetime

    How Midterm Elections Inspired Taylor Swift's New Song, 'Only the Young'

    Miss Americana was keeping another song about America in her back pocket, as it turns out. Taylor Swift recorded a song during her “Lover” album sessions, “Only the Young,” that was held back and kept under wraps for the right occasion — that occasion turning out to be “Miss Americana,” the Lana Wilson-directed documentary that [...]

  • Bradley Cooper Nightmare Alley

    Netflix Nabs Bradley Cooper's Leonard Bernstein Drama

    Netflix will back Bradley Cooper’s upcoming drama about Leonard Bernstein, the legendary conductor and musical maestro behind “West Side Story” and “Candide,” Variety has confirmed. The film was initially set up at Paramount. It has an A-list lineup of producers, including Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Emma Tillinger Koskoff, and Todd Phillips. Kristie Macosko Krieger from [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content