A dog experiences many lives as he tries to figure out what it’s all for. He is reincarnated as a boy’s beloved pup, a police dog and a stray as he treads a path that leads to enlightenment and hopefully a good belly rub.
People, on the whole, enjoy dogs. And, for those people, dogs are soothing and instantly likeable as protagonista — their presence automatically earning a film a degree of goodwill. A Dog’s Purpose works on the idea that if one dog in a film is good, then a whole parade of them is even better. This proves not wholly true.
This is a sort of loosely Buddhist Marley & Me. We witness one canine consciousness (voiced brightly by Josh Gad) move through many lives as it searches for the meaning of its existence. Each time the dog dies it is born anew in a different species, and sometimes gender, experiencing all the joy and sadness that life has to offer. The entire premise of the film, based on a novel by W. Bruce Cameron, is confusing. This dog’s first concern is working out why he’s here. Its second is perfecting the capture of a deflated leather football. These existential yearnings are somewhat at odds with his sweet doggy stupidity. They’re not convincing as anything more than a spurious way to glue a few cute dog tales together.
Lasse Hallström dresses the whole thing beautifully, giving it his last-days-of-summer glow and filling his cast with bright-eyed types (Britt Robertson, Dennis Quaid) who look ever ready for a beach run. It needs the enthusiasm in the presentation to help sweeten all the dog death; you can’t have a dog reincarnated without repeatedly killing it. Tonally it’s a complete mish-mash. Hallström doesn’t get enough time in most of the dogs’ lives to establish a personality for each story, nor does he build enough character for any of the humans to make the dog’s eventual epiphany emotionally significant. All the animals are adorable, but their adventures are not memorable.
Innately sweet, due to the high number of fluffy animals, but it has the gloopy emotion and silly plotting of a Nicholas Sparks novel. Nicholas Barks, if you will.