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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
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.
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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?
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?
- In theaters: January 27, 2017
- On DVD or streaming: May 2, 2017
- Cast: Dennis Quaid, Josh Gad, Britt Robertson, Peggy Lipton
- Director: Lasse Hallstrom
- Studio: Universal Pictures
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Cats, Dogs, and Mice
- Character strengths: Empathy
- Run time: 120 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: thematic elements and some peril
- Last updated: January 9, 2020
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