Cast: Ashley Judd, Edward James Olmos, Alexandra Shipp, Bryce Dallas Howard
Director: Charles Martin Smith
January seems like a very appropriate time for a harmless dog movie to come out. As the weather around us freezes most of the nation in, a kind-hearted movie about a dog should do the job and warm even the coldest of hearts. While A Dog’s Way Home does that in parts even if those parts are generic, the thing that prevents A Dog’s Way Home from being one of the more well-regarded dog movies is how dark it can be at times. While the film is for the most part a pleasant and emotional experience, these dark moments take a solid, fun, movie and prevent it from being a must-watch film.
The film follows Bella (voiced by Howard), a young dog who is taken in by Lucas (Jonah Hauer-King) and his mother Terri (Judd). In their time together, Bella is loved by the family and the veterans that Lucas and Terri work with and is shown to be a sweet, fun-loving dog. When Bella gets impounded by the police for violating the city’s ban on pitbulls, Lucas and Terri move Bella out-of-state until they can set up a residence outside of Denver. Missing Lucas too much, Bella decides to go out on a quest to one day reunite with her family back in Colorado, regardless of the obstacles she faces along the way. When you look at a movie like this, you would expect it to be a relatively positive experience due to the subject matter and the emotional attachment that many people have to their dogs. As a dog owner myself, I could absolutely relate to Bella and her journey based on her love for Lucas and wanted nothing more than to see her succeed. This movie comes with all of the usual attachments that we see in movies about dogs, specifically a score that gives big emotional swells in moments of peril or relief. This is pretty par for the course for a movie like this, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less effective as this film accomplishes pretty much everything that it sets out to achieve. The strangest decision about this movie is at random intervals, it shifts to a dark, almost ominous tone. Some of the topics covered in this film are combat-related PTSD, alcoholism, police corruption, racism, and death. Think about this for a minute. These are some heavy topics to discuss in the appropriate forums, let alone a film centered around a young dog. While these issues predominantly affect the human characters, Bella isn’t exempt from suffering. I saw someone refer to the second half of this movie as, “a dog-centered version of The Revenant,” and that’s a pretty spot on comparison. I understand the point of showing how Bella struggles so that when the reunification eventually happen it will allow us to feel that much more connected to the situation, but there had to be a better, more palate-cleansing way to prove this point. Seeing the amount of pain Bella and these people go through is not exactly my definition of, “fun,” but if that suits your needs then by all means go for it.
Overall, for January family release, there could’ve been significantly worse options out there. It’s only 96 minutes long, so this movie can very easily be digested and understood in a short period of time. While the tone is definitely an odd choice for a movie like this, A Dog’s Way Home is still a relatively enjoyable movie that shows us that the bond being a dog and her person can be as strong as any bond that exists between people.
Overall Score: 6.5/10