A Dog's Purpose

Movie review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
A Dog's Purpose Movie Poster Image
Parents recommendPopular with kids
Tearjerker is sweet, poignant, and occasionally violent.
  • PG
  • 2017
  • 120 minutes

Parents say

age 10+
Based on 37 reviews

Kids say

age 9+
Based on 70 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Strong messages about the life-changing connection and friendship between dogs and their human owners. Also promotes the idea that people aren't meant to go through life alone and that they're happier and more fulfilled with both human partners and animal companions. Clear theme of empathy.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Ethan is a wonderful dog owner: kind, helpful, disciplined, and loving. He takes good care of Bailey and is also a doting son. Hannah is a supportive, encouraging girlfriend and pet lover. Carlos is a dedicated cop and partner to his K-9 companion. The dog believes his/her purpose is to defend, protect, and love his/her human companions. Maya is sweet and smart and showers her dog with affection and kindness.


Violence against both dogs and people, some of which could be sad/upsetting. Dogs die from early euthanasia, from being shot and nearly drowned, and of old age. An abusive father pushes his wife and his son, who pushes him back. A scary scene depicts a man who has kidnapped a young girl and is about to hurt her when the police show up. A neglectful owner chains the dog outside and then leaves it alone to find its own way as a stray. A house fire causes a devastating injury.


From the dog's perspective, Ethan and his girlfriend are "licking each other's faces." The dog also mentions that his "butt itches" when Hannah pets him. In another dog life, he falls in love with a female dog.


Infrequent language includes a few uses of "s--t," "dumb," "stupid."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Quite a bit of drinking, particularly by Ethan's father, who starts out drinking socially after work but continues to drink excessively as Ethan grows into adolescence, to the point that he's moody and eventually violent. A toast at a wedding reception.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that A Dog's Purpose is an emotional drama based on W. Bruce Cameron's 2010 novel about a dog (voiced by Josh Gad) that's reincarnated several times from the 1950s through the 2000s (the dog keeps its memories/personality, despite being different breeds and genders). There are some violent/upsetting scenes: An alcoholic, abusive father pushes his wife and son; a man kidnaps a girl, threatens her, throws her in the water, and shoots at a police officer and his dog; a neglectful dog owner keeps his dog chained and then purposely lets him go astray; and a fire causes a catastrophic injury for a young man. Strong language is infrequent (but includes "s--t"), and couples don't do much more than kiss. Look for clear messages about empathy and the importance of companionship, both human and animal. Before the movie's release, a controversy emerged about whether the animal performers were mistreated on the set; an investigation proved that the video was edited in a misleading manner.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 7 and 9-year-old Written byMeredithR January 28, 2017

Kids loved it, some iffy topics

Spoiler alert - some scene description to follow...

I took a group of ten 10 year-olds and two 7 year-olds to see this today. I loved the movie but cried the w... Continue reading
Parent Written byPam F. June 3, 2017

A touching heart feel movie

I watch it and I cry through the whole movie I lost my Pomerania 17 months ago it still kills me it make me wish I could bring my Baby back in another fur baby... Continue reading
Teen, 16 years old Written byShowman movie13 February 29, 2020

Adorable but some perilous moments

I did enjoy this movie; But it was not my favorite of all time. There is a moment of intense peril involving a fire. The dog shows great role models. I think e... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written bytheflipiccritic January 31, 2017

Amazing film

Why did this movie get bad reviews? This movie was way better than I expected. It was very entertaining throughout, and there were some funny scenes as well. I... Continue reading

What's the story?

A DOG'S PURPOSE is based on W. Bruce Cameron's comedic novel about a dog's journey through several lives, with all different sorts of human companions. Voiced by Josh Gad, the dog is first a puppy that's picked up and euthanized by animal control. His first meaningful life is as Bailey, a golden retriever that ends up adopted by only child Ethan (Bryce Gheisar) and his mother (Juliet Rylance). Bailey and Ethan enjoy a close relationship that continues as Ethan grows into adolescence (K.J. Apa) and eventually becomes a star football player in the 1960s. Bailey even plays a part in helping Ethan find his first serious girlfriend, Hannah (Britt Robertson). But after family and personal tragedy strike, Bailey eventually dies of old age. He's then reincarnated as Ellie, a K-9 German shepherd partnered with cop Carlos (John Ortiz) in the 1970s. The dog fulfills its life cycle again and again until the 2000s, when circumstances bring him full circle.

Is it any good?

Director Lasse Hallstrom specializes in emotional, feel-good fare that can make audiences cry, and this tearjerking drama is no exception. But because of a behind-the-scenes animal-abuse controversy, word of mouth leading up to the release of A Dog's Purpose wasn't about Gad's touching voice performance or the movie's alternately adorable and heartbreaking storylines. Instead, all the buzz was about a viral video that allegedly depicted on-set abuse toward the movie's animal actors -- a video that was later proven to have been purposely edited in a misleading way (i.e. faked).

All of that aside, the story exalts the relationship between dogs and their humans. Gad's voice is gentle and clear as all the various incarnations. Although the dog lives several lifetimes, it's Bailey that resonates the most (Apa is perfectly cast as a high-school football star whose dog is his best friend). There are occasional heavy themes, but there's laughter, too, and one "life" is quick and happy -- when the dog is a little pooch that belongs to pizza-loving, fast-talking graduate student Maya (Kirby Howell-Baptiste). Maya is lonely, and, thanks to her cute little dog falling for a much larger dog in the park, she finds love with her classmate. But ultimately it's the Bailey-Ethan bond that's most meaningful for this particular dog, and the way they find their way back to each other again is likely to leave you sniffling.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the violent/upsetting scenes in A Dog's Purpose. Do you think they're necessary to the story? Can a movie have violent parts and still be family friendly?

  • Did the controversy about the movie impact your feelings about it? How do you feel now that it's been proven that the video was edited in a misleading way? What does this teach us about casting a critical eye on what we see and hear?

  • What do the human characters learn from the dog? How does the movie's story promote empathy? Why is that an important character strength?

  • 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?

  • How does the movie portray drinking? Are there realistic consequences? Why is that important?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love animals

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Themes & Topics

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