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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that A Dog's Journey is the sequel to 2017's sentimental A Dog's Purpose, both of which are based on W. Bruce Cameron's best-selling books about a dog (voiced by Josh Gad) that's reincarnated again and again with the purpose of finding a specific human to protect and love. This time around, Ethan (Dennis Quaid) encourages his beloved dying dog to return to find his granddaughter. There's less violence in this one, but there's still an alcoholic, neglectful parent (this time a mother) and an abusive boyfriend who literally crashes into his ex-girlfriend on purpose. Another boyfriend is verbally demeaning and grabs his girlfriend; a minor character smokes. And, yes, the central dog dies -- four times, to be exact, due to sickness, old age, and accidents. But couples don't do much more than hug and kiss, and language is tame ("idiot," "stupid"). As in the first movie, there are clear messages about empathy and companionship, as well as the power of having a pet with whom humans share unconditional love.
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What's the story?
A DOG'S JOURNEY -- the sequel to 2017's A Dog's Purpose -- is, like the first film, an adaptation of W. Bruce Cameron's best-selling books about a special canine whose memories are reincarnated into a new dog each time it dies. As the sequel begins, Ethan (Dennis Quaid), his wife, Hannah (Marg Helgenberger), and their beloved dog, Bailey (voiced by Josh Gad), are living on their Michigan farm and taking care of Hannah's toddler granddaughter, CJ, and widowed daughter-in-law, Gloria (Betty Gilpin), after the death of her son. When Gloria, who's angry and neglectful in her grief, takes CJ away to Chicago, Hannah and Ethan are distraught. Right before Bailey eventually dies, Ethan asks him to come back for CJ. And that's what happens: The dog returns as Molly, a puppy that 11-year-old CJ (Abby Ryder Fortson) adopts, while her best friend, Trent (Ian Chen), adopts Molly's brother Rocky. Years later, CJ (now Kathryn Prescott) continues to be "Bailey's" purpose, even after more dog deaths and CJ's move to New York City to pursue a music career.
Is it any good?
Emotional and syrupy sweet, this sentimental sequel is a tribute to the enduring bond between dogs and their human best friends. Veteran TV director Gail Mancuso continues Lasse Hallstrom's poignant touch with the story, which switches from focusing on Ethan to CJ. The CJ storyline is less violent than younger Ethan's, but it's still filled with heartbreak, a parent's substance abuse, sadness, and loneliness (save for lifelong friend Trent).
Gilpin is well cast as a selfish, disinterested mother who cares more about warning her daughter about the dangers of getting "chubby" than actually parenting her. Prescott is believable as a vulnerable, unfulfilled young woman whose greatest comfort has always come from her dog. And Henry Lau is almost too good to be true as the earnest adult version of Trent. Gad's voice is eager and steadfast as the various incarnations of Bailey, and, unlike in the first film, A Dog's Journey, audiences stay with the same family of dog owners throughout the story (with the exception of one quick detour). This movie definitely and effectively pulls at the heartstrings, so pet lovers in particular should expect tears to flow at the many tender moments between CJ and Ethan and their dogs. There's even a subplot about one of the dogs being able to detect cancer by scent, an ability a later dog can also display -- with life-saving results. For dog fans, this is a movie that affirms the kinship between humans and dogs; for others, it's a treacly sweet take on some serious issues.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the violent/upsetting scenes in A Dog's Journey. Why do you think they were included? Can a movie have violent parts and still be family friendly?
What do the human characters learn from their dog? How does the story promote empathy? How does Bailey's journey, lifetime after lifetime, exemplify perseverance? Why are those important character strengths?
How does the movie address grief, especially in relation to losing a pet? Have you ever had to deal with that? What made you feel better?
What do you think about CJ and Trent's friendship? How is their relationship different from the other romantic relationships depicted in the movie? What's the message about friends who become more?
- In theaters: May 17, 2019
- On DVD or streaming: August 20, 2019
- Cast: Dennis Quaid, Josh Gad, Betty Gilpin
- Director: Gail Mancuso
- Studio: Universal Pictures
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Cats, Dogs, and Mice, Friendship
- Character strengths: Empathy, Perseverance
- Run time: 108 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: thematic content, some peril and rude humor
- Last updated: September 24, 2020
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