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Dog's Purpose, A
There's a reason cute dog videos are immensely popular on the internet (Next to cute cat videos). Not only are (most) dogs adorable and bring joy into our lives (Just in case you didn't guess, I'm a dog person), but there's a certain cosmic innocence and zen quality to them. They live in the moment, and every moment they exist, they seem to know what their purpose is in that given minute. A Dog's Purpose is an immediately likable and benign family film about a dog's soul (Voiced by Josh Gad and the "unapologetically wistful" setting in the recording studio) being reincarnated over the last half of the 20th Century, in order to figure out his purpose in life.
The premise is admittedly pure schmaltz, but the word itself, just like "melodrama", shouldn't immediately be associated with "bad", or "boring". Schmaltz is totally fine, when used with the right tone, and an earnest approach. Sometimes we need to be calmingly manipulated into the movie version of a snug and warm blanket. Director Lasse Hallstrom has tons of experience with schmaltz, both the earnest and heartwarming kind (Chocolat, Hachi: A Dog's Tale), as well as the cynical and calculated (Pick any Nicholas Sparks adaptation). Here, he brings a reflective and borderline melancholy approach to our personal connections with our canine friends in an episodic yet tonally cohesive fashion.
Even though the screenplay, adapted from W. Bruce Cameron's book, tries to bookend the first and second acts in a fairly cloying way, having our dog find his way back to the older version (Dennis Quaid) of a young man (K.J. Apa) who was his first beloved and caring owner in order to help him rekindle an old relationship, it's the episodic sections that show the dog's other lives, unrelated to that plot, that shines the best. A brief segment that covers the dog standing by his female owner as she finds the love of her life, gets married, and has children, is heartfelt and affable in its briefness. It can almost be enjoyed on its own as a short film.
The aforementioned bookend approach doesn't really work, as it tries too hard to give the dog's soul a purpose that can easily be crammed into a traditional three-act structure. The fact that it also relies on the human characters actually believing in the dog's reincarnation doesn't help the credibility department.
A Dog's Purpose supports some beautiful and bright canine photography, and the 1080p transfer brings that to life in impressive clarity. There isn't any discernible video noise, and the film's various color palettes, from warm Americana to cold cityscapes, are captured really well here.
The DTS-HD 5.1 track comes to life during the many (admittedly obvious) period-appropriate song uses in the film. Otherwise, this is a fairly front-and-center heavy mix.
Deleted Scenes: 10 minutes of deleted material. Nothing much to see here, other than some extra doggy footage.
Outtakes: Some cute moments with dogs. This runs a mere two minutes.
Lights, Camera, Woof: This is exactly the kind of playful featurette you find in a release like this, where the crew talk lovingly about the many dogs used in the film.
A Writer's Purpose: A very brief examination of how the book and the screenplay came to life.
A Dog's Purpose is far too short of a schmaltz masterpiece, since it balances that fine line between a cynical attempt to tug at heartstrings and a genuine examination of why canine companionship matters so much to us. However, it's the perfect kind of movie to watch with your cute dog video-obsessed grandma, snuggled up together under a warm blanket.
Oktay Ege Kozak is a film critic and screenwriter based in Portland, Oregon. He also writes for The Playlist, The Oregon Herald, and Beyazperde.com