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Review: A Dog's Journey

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Old Yeller eat your heart out

Four dead dogs. 

Over the course of an hour and a half, there are four on screen dog deaths. One dies from injection, one gets in a car accident, one dies in its sleep, and the last just wanders off into the woods, fully aware that he's going to die. 

Why did I decide to review the movie where four dogs die on screen? Is it supposed to tug at my heart strings? Should I feel more grateful for my own dog after seeing these dogs die for their owner? I have no idea. All I do know is that A Dog's Journey is pretty blatant about its emotional manipulation, and it would have gotten away with it too, if it wasn't for its stupidity!

A Dog's Journey
Director: Gail Mancusco
Rated: PG
Release Date: May 17, 2019

In an insane twist of fate that I can't believe, A Dog's Journey is a sequel to the 2017 hit A Dog's Purpose that somehow did well enough to justify a sequel. From the same writer that brought you both of those movies and this year's A Dog's Way Home, we continue to follow Bailey (Josh Gad), who in A Dog's Purpose was a dog that was continuously reborn and tracked down his original owner Ethan (Dennis Quaid). Now that Ethan is a grandpa, right before Bailey is about to die yet again, Ethan tells Bailey that he needs to protect his granddaughter CJ (Kathyrn Prescott) in the same way he did for him for all of those years. So now Bailey is reincarnated again and again in order to make sure that CJ is alright and reunite their family once more.

So I was debating on getting Lacey to come in and review this movie because she was eager to get her paws on my laptop again, but there was no way in hell I was going to have her tag along to watch the dead dog movie. I don't know what's up with W. Bruce Cameron, the author of all of these dog books that get turned into dog movies, but why does he think that audiences want to watch dogs die? Granted, their deaths are never glorified, but the marketing makes no attempt to hide the fact that you're gonna see some dead dogs during your runtime in a weak attempt to make you cry.

A Dog's Journey makes no attempt whatsoever to hide its manipulative nature to the audience. The movie wants me to feel and emote for Bailey and his reincarnated selves as well as the drama in CJ's life, which ranges from an alcoholic and neglectful mother, a murderous ex-boyfriend, and a lack of self-confidence, but all of it hits with a resounding thud. Hallmark movies are more subtle than this. At least A Dog's Way Home was kind of successful with its manipulations because it didn't hold back with the misery. The dog in that movie was chained to a dead homeless man and was about to die from dehydration and got hit by a truck by the time the credits rolled, plus there were consequences because of those events for that dog. There are no consequences that Bailey has to face, robbing the movie of any dramatic tension cause we know he'll just be brought to life as a new dog in two minutes.

But even if a dramatic scene is done competently, it's ruined by Josh Gad, who provides narration for all of Baileys thoughts. Josh Gad is just dog Olaf here. He has the same kind of innocence and voice as Olaf, only he's a fur baby. For a time it's not too bad, plus he does have a moment or two that gave me a chuckle, but it's more annoying than anything else. There's a moment in the movie where CJ is having a dramatic confrontation with her mother, but Gad's voice-over comes in to inject humor into a scene that clearly doesn't need it. It only makes it worse when the jokes and one-liners he delivers aren't even funny and you realize that he does this for the entire movie.

As a whole, A Dog's Journey isn't even a movie about Bailey. It's about CJ and her growing up, getting away from her mother, and trying to start a life in New York City. Bailey is more incidental than integral, and is actually useless in some parts. In one of his lives, he's reborn as a dog named Big Dog, who belongs to a rather nice guy at a gas station. Bailey still knows his purpose is to find CJ, and she pops into the gas station for a grand total of two minutes, then leaves. That's all that Bailey's life as Big Dog amounted to. He spent on entire lifetime to see her for two minutes, then spends the rest of it just waiting to die. It's bleakly hilarious when you think about it, and I know for a damn fact that's not what anyone intended to happen. 

If you look at it as a comedy, there are some moments that do work surprisingly well. There's the pointless life bit that eats up five minutes, but the ending is kind of magical in how stupid it can get. Old Man Dennis Quaid spouts off that his dog's soul has been with him for 80 years or so, and everyone believes him without a second thought. He's right, but to see everyone else agree with him without challenging the fact that his dog has been reincarnated through multiple lives is so ridiculous that it's perfect. It's perfectly dumb, which is terrible, because the dead dog movie should not be funny. 

I'm almost surprised at how vanilla A Dog's Journey is otherwise. This is the kind of schmaltz that has no business being a feature film, and yet here we are. It's not like it preaches any hurtful message or revels in cynicism, but there's about as much thematic weight here as their is on a poster in a vet's office. It reminds you "Aren't dogs great?" And yes, they are great. I love my dog very much. Did I need to see a movie where Dennis Quaid's immortal dog gets killed multiple times to help a girl with her self-esteem issues to realize that dogs are great? No. No I did not. 

At least this doesn't get as dark as it does in the book. Apparently in there, CJ commits suicide at the end after her mom dies and Bailey just kind of dies and reunites with all of his dead owners in heaven. In the movie, we instead get Bailey running around with Dennis Quaid in heaven, which is just a giant field of wheat. There's no real observation to be made there, just I'm glad that the A Dog's Journey didn't feature assisted suicide. However, four dead dogs is apparently okay here in a movie that I've already mostly forgotten about. Also, I guess Dennis Quaid is the first person we'll meet when we die and go to heaven. 

What even is this movie?

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A Dog's Journey reviewed by Jesse Lab

4

BELOW AVERAGE

Has some high points, but they soon give way to glaring faults. Not the worst, but difficult to recommend.
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