Disregard the fact that Hallström's first English-language film was ABBA: THE MOVIE in 1977 (although that is an awesome notch to have) and consider that his contributions to cinema have included films such as WHAT'S EATING GILBERT GRAPE, THE CIDER HOUSE RULES and THE SHIPPING NEWS. Furthermore he is no stranger to melodrama with titles like CHOCOLAT, SALMON FISHING IN THE YEMIN and HATCHI: A DOG'S TALE... amongst others. And so while A DOG'S PURPOSE may be an indulgent exercise in schmaltz, it is nevertheless classy brand of schmaltz. Haters be damned. This is a delightful film.
Josh Gad plays the voice of Bailey, dog who ponders his own existence after his first life is cut short as a puppy. He is born again as a golden retriever and adopted by a young family, where he and the son become inseparable for the duration of his long and happy life. When he dies of old age Bailey is born again as a German Shepherd police dog and as the film unfolds he journeys through several lives until he finds his way home to where it all began and realises his purpose. You needn't consider that to be a spoiler, because lets face it... films like this are generally presumable.
What sets A DOG'S PURPOSE apart from the countless other cutesy dog flicks is it's humour and its charm. By having the dog's inner-thoughts narrate the story, the film not only adopts the format of the book from which it was adapted, but it also presents a relatable sense of humour that all dog owners will identify with. From adorable misunderstandings to sincere and heartfelt affections the film embraces its sentimentality without being hokey or mindless.
Gosh Gad's voice work is nicely restrained (thank God) and aside from a few idiosyncrasies most unsuspecting viewers will be oblivious to his presence... he gives Bailey a well-measured balance of fun, innocence and sincerity without relying on his usual over-the-top brand of low-brow humour. The rest of the cast play second-fiddle to Gad's lead and they include KJ Apa (hot from his lead role in RIVERDALE), John Ortiz, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Peggy Lipton and Dennis Quaid. Despite being the obvious draw-card name Quaid's role is contained in the final act. His is a relatively minor role, and yet it is the most profound.
If you're a sucker for tear-jerking animal films then A DOG'S PURPOSE is a cut above the rest. And while you may have tissues on stand-by for an inevitable finale, it might be a good idea to pack more, because this cheeky movie hits you with that heart-thumper over, and over, and over again (in a good way). Cynics be damned, because this film makes no apologies for laying on the schmaltz. You know what to expect before you see it and so if you're inclined to hate, see something else instead.