A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Strong messages about life-changing connection and friendship between dogs and their human companions. Promotes idea that people aren't meant to go through life alone, that they're happier, more fulfilled with human partners and animal companions. Also promotes animals' healing powers for emotionally and physically wounded. Clear themes of empathy, perseverance as Bella comforts other animals and humans, never gives up on finding her humans.
Positive Role Models
Lucas and his mom are wonderful dog owners: kind, loving, generous. Lucas takes good care of Bella and works to save/rescue animals. Olivia is a supportive, encouraging girlfriend and pet lover. The humans who help Bella are generally kind, well intentioned. Diversity within human cast. Bella is a disciplined, caring dog who comforts animals and humans alike. The animal control officer is unrealistically mean and fixated on "getting" Bella.
Violence & Scariness
Several potentially upsetting/disturbing scenes. In first scenes, Bella's mother is snatched by animal control (animals whine and panic, Bella says, "I never saw her again"); Bella's also separated from adoptive Mother Cat. Animal control takes Bella away from Lucas; she's sad, scared, confused; Lucas is told Bella will be euthanized if she's picked up by animal control again. Sad good-bye between Bella and Lucas. Bella is scared in the woods by herself at night. A mother cougar is shot by hunters (audiences hear the shot, briefly see dead cougar but not bloody wound). Bella and Big Kitten are pursued by wolves, Bella is separated from Big Kitten; Bella is later pursued and hurt by wolves again (bloody injury seen briefly). Bella ends up attached to homeless veteran who chains her to him and then (spoiler alert) dies. It's particularly upsetting because Bella describes keeping him warm until there's "no more" him; she's chained to dead body. She's semi-conscious when finally freed. Bella is struck by car, looks like she has a leg injury. Small avalanche injures a man. Veterans at the hospital are sad.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Two different couples embrace, one is shown cuddling in bed. A man tells the woman he's interested in that she has to think it's "hot" that he's saving kittens.
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Infrequent use of words including "hell," "freakin'," and "oh my God." Also insults such as "moron," "shaggy butt," "crazy," and "stupid."
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Products & Purchases
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Adult characters have beer and wine.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that A Dog's Way Home, like 2017's A Dog's Purpose, is based on one of author W. Bruce Cameron's books. In this case, the central canine is Bella (voiced by Bryce Dallas Howard), who embarks upon a perilous 400-mile, two-plus-year journey to get back to her human companion after an unexpected separation. Although there's no dog death or reincarnation as in A Dog's Purpose, there are several disturbing/potentially upsetting scenes, including (spoiler alert!) the tragic death of a homeless man who had chained Bella to him to keep her close, an avalanche, mention of animals being euthanized, confrontations between Bella and wolves, injuries to animals (including an offscreen gun shot), and sad/upsetting separations, some of which end with Bella saying "I never saw them again." That said, dog-loving families who can handle the emotional roller coaster will enjoy the movie's messages about perseverance, empathy, and the incredibly strong bonds between dogs and their humans. Expect a little bit of very mild language ("hell," "stupid," "moron"), some background drinking, and a bit of affection between both opposite-sex and same-sex couples. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
Cameron is like Nicholas Sparks, but for pet stories; his crowd-pleasing, tearjerking work focuses on the powerful love between humans and their dogs. And while dog-loving families will be happy to note that, unlike in A Dog's Purpose, there's no death scene involving the central canine in A Dog's Way Home, there definitely is an emotional, intense story arc that's likely to leave them in tears. Howard does a fine job voicing the incredibly loving, determined, and long-suffering Bella, who wants nothing more than to play with Lucas and comfort "Mom" and her veteran friends. Bella's relationship with the doting Lucas (Hauer-King is sweetly charming) is as cute as you'd expect, especially the twee way he offers her a "tiny piece of cheese" every night before bed.
But the movie's second half, which deals with the series of sad to seriously upsetting obstacles Bella faces once she's separated from Lucas, is overlong. The scenes Bella spends as an adoptive mother to an orphaned baby cougar she calls "Big Kitten" feel like they're part of one of those "unlikely animal friends" stories, but the cougar looks so overtly computer-generated that the effect can be off-putting. And when Bella ends up with homeless Axel (Edward James Olmos), things get downright depressing. The theme of veterans suffering from mental illness works in the context of service dogs, but Axel's situation seems a bit heavy for what's otherwise clearly a family-targeted film. There's a brief moment of happiness when Bella temporarily lives with a kind married couple (Barry Watson and Motell Gyn Foster) who want to adopt her. She's tempted, but her heart belongs at home, with Lucas.
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