I'm a big fan of dogs; when I was a child we had Alaskan Malamutes - Kipnuk and Shinook. Great dogs, albeit dumber than doo-doo. But as any dog owner will tell you, all dogs are very communicative in their own way. They are more than happy to tell you stuff if you bother to pay attention.


Both Kipnuk and Shinook used to howl whenever an emergency vehicle was nearby with its siren blasting. At first you think, "Oh, isn't that cute!" But in reality, they are howling because the siren is uncomfortable to their sensitive ears. If you blow cigarette smoke in their faces, they turn their heads or walk away because they don't like it. That's how they communicate, through body language and an occasional bark!


That's why it was particularly difficult to see a video that was released showing one of the canine stars of the film "A Dog's Purpose" seemingly being forced to do something that it didn't want to do, namely jump into a pool filled with turbulent waves being caused by six outboard motors. Clearly the dog, Hercules as it was revealed, didn't want to go in and his distressed body language indicated it. Next thing you know, the video jumped and showed Hercules drowning and divers racing to rescue him.

The producer finally issued a statement explaining the video and his excuse was reasonable though still disturbing. But it was reasonable enough that I was tempted not to go to the advanced screening of the film to write this review.


It would be great to say that despite the cloud of uncertainty surrounding the treatment of the animals, "A Dog's Purpose" is one kick ass family film. But it is not. It does have some cute moments, after all, half the cast are adorable pooches.


It revolves around the soul of one dog as he transitions from one life to the next. In his first life he starts out as a stray mutt puppy, living on the streets. He is immediately captured by animal control people and presumably put to death, all within the first 3 minutes of the film.

He returns as the films central character, Bailey (voiced by Josh Gad) and becomes the life long companion of a boy named Ethan (play in different stages by Bryce Gheisar and K.J. Apa. This is his best life though it is filled with bad times due to Ethan's dad (Luke Kirby) drinking. This life takes up most of the film before he transitions to Ellie, a German shepherd that becomes trained as a police service dog. His life isn't as much fun and it includes the scene that raised the films controversy.


The next transition is to Tino, a Corgy that winds up being owned by a reclusive single woman named Maya (Kirby Howell-Baptiste). This was his second best lifetime, though the film doesn't spend a great deal of time with it as it moves on to his next life as a Saint Bernard named Buddy. Buddy has a rough early life that winds up with him living with an older guy (Dennis Quaid) who brings him renewed happiness.


That's the gist of the story with a lot of touchy, feely moments and quite a few humorous moments. But the thing that stands out are the deaths of the dogs! It's not an "Old Yeller" or "Marley and Me" sad ending, it is several sad endings for pooches. The first death, with a dog you never have any real connection, steels you for the rest of the deaths. Director Lasse Hallstrom only develops one dog personality and then transfers it to other dogs. But you rarely feel good about the dog because his lives are filled with so much tragedy.


What is refreshing is late in the film, the appearance of Peggy Lipton of the old 1970s show Mod Squad. She looks fabulous! But the human characters are poorly developed and poorly portrayed across the board. The dogs are clearly the stars.


The film was adapted from W. Bruce Cameron's novel of the same name but is lacking the the books depth; readers will feast on the book and eschew the film.


"A Dog's Purpose" is an underwhelming, unhappy film that is born in a shroud of mystery and ends in disappointment. Not really a family film and not really a film for dog lovers.   -- GEOFF BURTON