Gary Larson, creator of The Far Side comic series, often takes man-animal situations and flips them – looking at them through the perspective of the animal. This idea forms the base of A Dog's Purpose, in which we take a look at life through the eyes of man's best friend.
This premise, based on a book of the same name, seems likable enough. After all, anyone who grew up on Homeward Bound, or even Babe, knows that this formula can work really well. But the movie, despite a shelter-load of adorable dogs, is a bore.
A dog's perspective
Most dog owners have wondered what their dog is thinking, and A Dog's Purpose tries to answer that. The dog at the heart of it all is Bailey, who's rescued and adopted by a boy named Ethan. As the two grow, they become, quite literally, inseparable. Bailey is part of everything Ethan experiences, be it love or loss.
However, a dog's life is short, and, shortly after Ethan moves away for college, Bailey passes away. But A Dog's Purpose practises some bizarre form of canine Buddhism, and so Bailey reincarnates and dies, over and over, until he finally makes his way back to Ethan.
It starts off nicely enough, with the dog's observations on life coming across as sweet, funny and sincere. However, this isn't a trope that's going to carry a whole movie and it quickly starts to unravel.
Before long, things start to get repetitive as the movie becomes a meandering mess. Humour that was strictly alright to begin with is reused and rehashed, scenes of dogs running – either through fields or houses – fast become repetitive, and the sight of multiple people having to watch their dogs die is downright disconcerting.
No Marley & Me
The film is meant to offer us cute dogs, tug at our heartstrings, and impart moral lessons – basically, the formula for Marley & Me. However, while Marley & Me was a masterclass in scripting, with memorable dialogues that made for a great movie, A Dog's Purpose only delivers on the promise of cute dogs. And they really are cute.
In Marley & Me, we were taken on an emotional rollercoaster, laughing and crying at various points in the movie. The dog's eventual passing is treated with great sensitivity, and is inarguably the emotional climax of the film. A Dog's Purpose also manages to stir up the feels, but only by repeatedly killing off the dog to the point where we should be desensitised, but still feel bad out of sheer guilt.
The lessons for the humans are also not on the level of Marley & Me, which manages to find nuance in the mundane. Here, the lessons are downright obvious, as evidenced by the fact that even a dog can figure them out.
Should you see it?
Look, it has really, really cute dogs, so it's not a total loss. However, if you're having a nice weekend, stay away from this movie, because it isn't a terrible movie, it is a major downer.