I was smiling like an idiot the whole time.
Yes, I know this is more or less a movie meant for children. Yes, I am a 22-year-old man. Yes, I went to see this in theatres and enjoyed the hell out of it. In the spirit of honesty, I left my choice of review to the last minute and A Dog’s Way Home (2019) was the only movie I had time to see. Again, in the spirit of honesty, I’ve been having a rough week and a movie about an adorable talking dog overcoming adversity seemed like a more fun viewing experience than a mother helping her addict son after his return from rehab. You guys, I’m so glad I saw this. I ended up having a great time.
A Dog’s Way Home tells the story of Bella, a dog who after being separated from her owner Lucas, embarks on an epic adventure across Colorado to find him. If it sounds at all like a rip-off of Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey (1993), that’s because it pretty much is. Just without Sally Field as the voice of a sassy cat. Speaking of, the movie literally starts with close ups of kittens and puppies playing together. Immediately I thought, “oh, this was more than worth the price of admission.” Oh my God, then they started nuzzling each other and I thought, “oh wow, this is hands down the best movie of 2019.” Yeah, I know we’re only two weeks into the new year, but I know a winner when I see one. This movie is unashamedly full of love, joy, and adorableness, making it the most heart-warming trip to the movies I’ve had in a long time.
What is it about animal movies that makes viewers feel everything so intensely? Whether it’s tension, sorrow, or joy, your emotions are heightened when the protagonist has four legs. Over the course of its runtime, a modest hour and 42 minutes, A Dog’s Way Home runs the emotional gamut. One minute you’re smiling and gushing over the incredibly loving bond between Bella and Lucas, and the next you’re reeling from two 12-year-olds having found the body of a homeless man. At times the movie explores heavier themes which can distract from the main narrative, but I appreciated it. I would much rather a lighthearted and fun movie like this take a detour to talk about real themes such as depression, than another animal movie filled with stupid animal tricks. Anytime the movie strayed too far into more serious territory, it bounced right back and doubled-down on the funny puppy antics.
If you’re sick of dramas, superhero movies, and biopics, this is the perfect palette cleanser. The acting, characters, and writing are all pretty ho-hum, but the movie is so damn endearing that you don’t even care. Also, let’s be real for a second: Does anyone watching an animal movie really care about the human characters or the script? Hell no. If you’re seeing this movie, you go into it expecting a heart-warming and delightful tale of a dog finding her way home which is exactly what the movie delivers. You can say that the movie is basic or simple, but you can’t say that it’s stupid or not fun. What also helps elevate A Dog’s Way Home from a children’s movie into one that the whole family can genuinely enjoy, is its sense of humour. It manages to be funny without sacrificing intelligence. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not particularly witty, or even laugh-out-loud funny, but I have to give A Dog’s Way Home credit for rising above forced puns and poop jokes, as so many animal movies tend to fall back on. I’m happy to report that there wasn’t a single mention of excrement in the entire movie. Instead, A Dog’s Way Home wisely sticks to its guns and creates humour from the innocent way Bella sees and reacts to the world. Her naiveté will pull at your heartstrings and slap a smile on your face as she interacts with other dogs, chases squirrels, and acts as a therapy dog for wounded war veterans. Isn’t that the best kind of comedy? When you don’t realize you’ve been smiling through the whole scene? This movie knows exactly what it’s doing.
Giving voice to Bella is the always cheerful Bryce Dallas Howard, an inspired casting choice. Considering the simplistic style of the script and that all she had to do was a little voice-over, I’d be surprised if Howard’s role took longer than two days to record. She’s basically narrating a children’s book. Howard’s effortless charm is a welcome bonus to a movie already bursting with whimsy and heart, and thankfully, her nuanced and animated performance help to distract from the movie’s lacklustre CGI. Look, I know they don’t have Disney money, but after seeing The Jungle Book (2016) I kind of expect more from my CGI animals. The effects dangerously border on looking unfinished. Oh my God, there’s one cuckoo-banana-puffs scene of CGI Bella fighting a pack of CGI wolves, and it’s the shakiest, most heavily edited thing I’ve ever seen. The camera cuts away every couple of seconds in what I’m assuming is a ploy to distract from the animal violence and also not notice how bad the CGI is. Honestly, I didn’t even care that much because after the fight, Bella nuzzles a bobcat while “Lean on Me” plays. Come on!
After seeing A Dog’s Way Home, you’re going to want to adopt a dog and move to Colorado. Seriously, this movie is like a “Come to Colorado” ad. The landscape is stunning. Perfect for any animal lover, or simply anyone who’s a fan of feel-good movies, A Dog’s Way Home is rare in that it’s almost impossible to hate. You’d have to be heartless to leave this movie in a negative mood. A real pick-me-up, I strongly encourage everybody to see this movie. It’ll leave you “barking” for more. Yikes, was that too much?
Have you seen A Dog’s Way Home? How’d it make you feel?
Let me know in the comments or on social media!