Chewing slippers? Slobbering on faces? Fetching sticks? Licking bums? This strange and sentimental movie sets out to uncover the true meaning of a dog’s life.
Josh Gad (‘Beauty and the Beast’) voices Bailey, a golden retriever that, instead of passing through the pearly gates of doggy heaven when he dies, is reincarnated. From a German shepherd police dog to a college’s student’s corgi, he lives out different lives in new canine guises, jumping from one cloying cliché to another – saving lives, match-making and solving crimes, all while having an epic existential crisis. To do meaningful work, to have fun or to love? This pup asks profound questions about existence that most human beings avoid.
There are cutesy moments and schmaltzy, shameless celebrations of canine spirit. Live-action puppies and a perky, sometimes funny, voiceover make ‘A Dog’s Purpose’ feel a bit ‘101 Dalmations’ but the multiple deaths aren’t quite so kid-friendly. Peppered throughout are moral messages about canine neglect and warnings about leaving dogs in hot cars, which make it feel like public information propaganda.
‘A Dog’s Purpose’ has been dogged by controversy – after footage emerged of German shepherd in distress on set (an independent investigation found the video to be misleading and edited). Despite the scandal and its shortcomings, this movie will be catnip for dog people. It has the power to tug at your heartstrings like a puppy at a postman’s trouser leg. But ultimately its message is muddled and manipulative rather than meaningful.