“A Dog’s Journey” Is More Of A Human’s Journey. It Also Proves That A Sequel Has The Power To Even Out-Do The Original. Here Is Another One For My List As One Of The Year’s Best Films.
W. Bruce Cameron is the Nicolas Sparks of dog books. He is prolific in writing them and like Nicolas Sparks has a good streak of getting them made into movies. Universal Pictures released the film adaptation of his book “A Dog’s Purpose” in 2017. It was a sleeper hit and was one of my favorite and best films of the year. Last year Columbia Pictures adapted Cameron’s other book series “A Dog’s Way Home”, which was a separate tale that failed at the box office. Now Bruce Cameron continues the story of “A Dog’s Purpose” with the sequel entitled “A Dog’s Journey”.
While I fell completely head over heels for “A Dog’s Purpose” In 2017, It’s pretty rare that a sequel will improve and be better than the original, but that is certainly the case with “A Dog’s Journey”. Emmy winning TV sitcom director Gail Mancuso who directed many episodes for some of Tv’s biggest shows including: “Friends”, “Roseanne”, “King Of Queens”, “Two Guys and A Girl”, “Dharma & Greg”, “Two & A Half Men”, “Fresh Off The Boat”, “Black-Ish” and “Modern Family” (quite the resume). Mancuso has taken over the directing leash from “A Dog’s Purpose” helmer veteran filmmaker Lasse Hallstrom (who sticks around as Executive Producer). Mancuso makes her feature film debut with “A Dog’s Journey”.
“A Dog’s Purpose”, followed a dog named Bailey as he was reincarnated through a series of lives of other dogs in order to unite his owner Ethan (Dennis Quaid) with his long-lost love. “A Dog’s Journey” picks up where “A Dog’s Purpose” left off, with Bailey (once again voiced by Josh Gad) living the happy life with Ethan (a returning Dennis Quaid) and Hannah (“CSI” star Marg Helgenberger). Hannah’s widowed daughter-in-law Gloria (star of Netflix’s “Glow” Betty Gilpin) is also living on the farm, along with her toddler CJ, who was born shortly after Hannah’s son was killed.
CJ is the light of Ethan and Hannah’s life, and a point of contention in the family since Gloria doesn’t seem to have much of a maternal instinct. When tensions rise, Gloria takes CJ and leaves town, and when Bailey approaches the end of another life cycle, Ethan asks him not to come back for him but to return in another dog’s life to help look after CJ. Soon after leaving Ethan and Hannah, Bailey is reborn as a puppy named Molly, which the reincarnation concept still allows for gender swaps and soon enough, Bailey who now goes by Molly locates CJ.
Just as Ethan and Hannah had feared, her life with Gloria is full of neglect and mismanagement, and as CJ moves through her teen years into adulthood. Most of “A Dog’s Journey” takes place with CJ in young adulthood (played by Kathryn Prescott), as Bailey works through a variety of incarnations to fulfill Ethan’s wish. In the meantime, Ethan and Hannah try to reconnect with Gloria, and a childhood friend named Trent (Henry Lau) will help provide CJ with the closest thing to stability she can find as she pursues her dreams to be a singer-songwriter in New York City.
Written by the returning screenwriters of “A Dog’s Purpose” is Maya Forbes, Cathryn Michon, Wallace Wolodarsky and author W. Bruce Cameron. It quickly becomes apparent how much deeper Mancuso and team are going with “A Dog’s Journey”. This isn’t just about running in the tall grass or stories of puppy heroism. It’s about family trauma, death, domestic abuse, neglectful parenting, addiction and illness.
While the reincarnating dog concept is still there, Mancuso’s film puts a lot more time into developing its human story, and that’s what ultimately makes “A Dog’s Journey”, so much different and elevates it from the first film. The human story leads to genuinely thoughtful, surprising and poignant moments.
Mancuso does a great job of making the transitions and brief dog death scenes less painful and numerous than they were in “A Dog’s Purpose”, and she has made the best use out of a cornfield since “Field Of Dreams”. Since “A Dog’s Journey” is more about the actors, it is nice to see Dennis Quaid back as the aging Ethan. I loved his performance in “A Dog’s Purpose” and his performance here is no slouch either. When he is required to put on aging makeup and mimic the movements of an elderly man, Quaid goes all in and dedicates himself to the role.
Marg Helgenberger of “CSI”, replaces the late Peggy Lipton who passed away last week. “Ant Man’s” Abby Ryder Fortson plays a young CJ and proves she’s got what it takes to be a star. Kathryn Prescott is well cast and easily holds the movie on her own when the big hitters like Dennis Quaid is not on screen. Prescott and Henry Lau are particularly impressive together and have great chemistry and I love that an Asian actor is getting the chance to play a lead. I hope this will be a big break for Lau, I’d like to see him in more projects. Betty Gilpin who plays absentee mom Gloria brings a certain complexity that makes a largely unsympathetic character feel very real.
“A Dog’s Journey” has so many great things going for it. While the concept of a dog in re-carnation is still there. Mancuso and her writers give us a sequel with a different approach to keep it fresh and set it apart from the first film. So many of these films are about a boy-and-his-dog, but this one does something that I love which flips the gender and makes it about a girl and her dog and in fact makes it more effective.
If “A Dog’s Journey” has any downfalls, it’s that because it’s directed by a veteran of television shows, the film can feel like four TV episodes stitched together. But that didn’t effect me as I have to say that this sequel really hit the spot for me. The ultimate message hits home that it’s about how dogs can fill the hole in your heart that a person might leave. It is a dogs purpose to offer people unconditional love when they need it most, and that has always been a dog’s journey.
GRADE: ★★★★★ (5 out of 5)