For the past few weeks, I’ve driven past innumerable billboards for the new Universal release “A Dog’s Purpose.” Given the ridiculous Los Angeles commute I make each day to our Sherman Oaks studios, I’ll stipulate to having spent more than a few moments pondering my own.
But that’s a tale for another blog post, book or psychiatrist appointment for another time.
Let’s give a quick background for this piece. I didn’t grow up with pets. We had a dog for a quick minute when I was a kid, but the dog exited our world as quickly as it had joined. So, I’ve long been curious about the way people relate to their dogs, cats, birds, etc. I appreciated the relationships, but I never understood it fully.
That leads me to younger daughter’s obsession for the past two years to have a pet. Santa brought a fish tank in ’15 and stocked it with goldfish. My daughter still takes great care of those fish, committing to the daily feedings and assisting with tank cleaning. With “Project Fish” deemed a success, she lobbied with great passion, having done her research and built her arguments, to bring a dog into our lives for a long while. She finally succeeded this summer when we visited a pet adoption and brought Tut (Chihuahua/Pug/Other mix) home. The two bonded immediately, and she’s lived up to her promises of assisting with feedings, walks and baths. Tut sleeps at her feet and sits patiently as my daughter works on her homework.
When the barrage of television ads for “A Dog’s Purpose” began, she excitedly planned for a date day to see the movie. We finally had that opportunity on Sunday afternoon. She kissed her Tut goodbye and told him that she’d tell him all about it.
** I understand that the movie has been embroiled in controversy because of a scene involving a dramatic water rescue by a dog named Hercules. Clearly, we hope that nothing untoward occurred in the production of this movie. Here is the official statement that was put forth by the firm that furnished the animal trainers.
My summary statement on this movie is this – it’s a roller coaster of emotion for anyone who’s experienced loss on any level and most certainly for those who have had pets in their lives. The tagline for the movie off of IMDB.com says it all. A dog looks to discover his purpose in life over the course of several lifetimes and owners.
Even equipped with that line, I don’t suspect that most of the theatergoers expected to need multiple tissues or to leave with dampened sleeves. The story of a dog’s soul (it was a New York Times bestseller, so spoilers don’t necessarily apply here) traveling between lives means that there are multiple deaths involved therein. And that means that there are frequent moments of despair and confusion for the children – and the adults – in the theater. Each time you get into the story and the relationships and — BAM! – you still feel like you’ve been punched in the face. It’s a short-lived response because, well, the soul travels. You could hear the tears and sniffles through the laughter as the next phase of Bailey’s (that’s the dog’s name) life began. After all, everyone has the instinct to utter an “Awwww” when they see a puppy.
And that’s how the movie flows. Bailey’s soul travels through time and space, affecting the lives of each of his owners. You see the relationship with a boy (Ethan) and how Bailey becomes a bright spot in a difficult upbringing. That childhood connection creates a warm and fuzzy feeling that pervades the audience, and I could tell that the kids on our row (certainly my daughter) related to the introduction of that element. The farm element in the first tale was a little too on the nose, but hey, so be it. By time we finish the 100-minute ride, Bailey becomes the glue to a number of families and creates a few along the way. And like the stages of life that we’d watched through Bailey’s eyes along the way in the different vignettes, we ponder our own.
We get star power from Dennis Quaid when we meet Ethan again, and Josh Gad provided the voice of Bailey (in all of his incarnations). Gad’s voice is recognized almost immediately by the children, and shouts of “OLAF!!” filled the theater. There are a number of great one-liners and moments to cut through the seriousness being asked time and again.
Why are we here?
I’ll tell you this. My daughter immediately came home, hugged Tut and told him he was too young to hear about the movie. They then ran out into the yard and played catch.
And that’s a win.
I’ll give it 2 1/2 Domes because of the effectiveness of the emotional roller coaster and that sense of a shared experience. Bring the tissues.
BoxOfficeMojo.com put up an estimate of $18.3 million earned during opening weekend on a budget of $22 million.