A Dog’s Journey Review: Heartwarming, emotional, and surprisingly satisfying
While touching on some welcomed adult themes for a PG film and some fun dialogue that comes from Josh Gad’s great voice work, A Dog’s Journey also offers a perfect pay-off to the series with an ending that’s heartwarming and satisfying.
The once again follows Bailey (voiced by Gad) as he’s still living with Ethan (Dennis Quaid) and Hannah (Marg Helgenberger) on their Michigan farm. Though their son Henry has passed, his memory now lives through their daughter in law Gloria (Betty Gilpin) and granddaughter CJ (Emma Volk). However, when Gloria and CJ leaves in an attempt to pursue a better life and Bailey is about to pass on, Ethan gives Bailey a new purpose to take care of CJ when he comes back. So, with a new purpose, Bailey comes back to help CJ’s younger (Abby Ryder Fortson) and older (Kathryn Prescott) through life and fulfill his purpose.
Now, it’s always been easy to wave off these movies as just an excuse to have cute dogs on-screen and make people sad when the dog inevitably dies and I’m not going to say that that isn’t the case with A Dog’s Journey. However, I was constantly impressed with the film’s central story and the themes and topics it touches on as Bailey comes in and out of CJ’s life. I actually thought it was interesting to see CJ have to deal with Gloria as an absentee parent and it made her strong connection to Bailey, as Molly, believable. Not to mention, the performances from Fortson and Prescott are great and they made CJ an understandably flawed person that’s easy to relate to and care for.
It was also impressive to see how the film directly deals with other tough subjects maturely in a PG environment. Issues like abusive relationships, cancer, and self-confidence are touched upon throughout the film in pleasantly unexpected ways. It felt refreshing for a PG film to touch on more mature subjects for younger viewers and it’s doesn’t fully sugar-coat a lot of what it’s showing so there’s something for both younger and older viewers to think about. It was actually really interesting to see how Bailey would connect to everything that CJ goes through and this connection is utilized well to create some clever story moments.
While the story itself is pretty solid throughout, A Dog’s Journey definitely has some cracks in it that are hard to ignore. It’s the kind of film that viewers can easily leave with a laundry list of nitpicks and technical issues with. The film constantly like to characterize anyone who is in a relationship with CJ or her childhood friend Trent (Henry Lau) as legitimately terrible and it feels as if the film is only doing this to create drama and conflict. I also couldn’t help but question how much time passes throughout the story and it makes the story a little rushed at times. Also, while I love Big Dog and find him adorable, his section was incredibly short and could’ve been cut out and not changed the movie at all.
Even some of the dialogue is a little off and can lead to some moments that just feel off. Dennis Quaid returns as Ethan with all of the same genuine care and compassion as before. However, when the film transition to him being much older his performance can come off as little too cheesy and loses some sincerity. Even Gad’s voice-over work doesn’t always work as Bailey’s generally upbeat and jolly attitude is inopportunely placed in moments that are sadder and more somber. Overall, though, Gad’s pretty great here and I loved how Bailey came off a little more cynical with him trying to break up CJ and one of her boyfriends and complaining about how CJ and Trent won’t just be together. The film’s humor is actually pretty well-rounded and very balanced for moviegoers of all ages.
A Dog’s Journey is also a very fitting end for series’ story arc, and I was surprised with how much I really appreciated it. I will say that I wasn’t a huge fan of how the film’s finale began as it made me a little frustrated with CJ and I felt that it started to ruin the mystery of Bailey’s reincarnation. However, what followed was literally perfect and incredibly satisfying to see. The end is incredibly fitting for Bailey as it gives a fulfilling feeling with his central goal and fans will undoubtedly leave feeling more than satisfied. It’s heartfelt, a true end of a journey, and, in my opinion, respects its fans by giving them an ending that’s more than deserving.
A Dog’s Journey fulfills its purpose by being the heartwarming and joyful film that it is while also delivering satisfying arcs and strong themes that are surprising and treated with care. Even with a few bumps in the road, the amount effort and strong TLC put into the film makes it a smooth journey that’s hard not to appreciate, whether you’re a dog-lover or not.