Want personalized picks that fit your family?

Set preferences to see our top age-appropriate picks for your kids.

Get age-based picks

A Dog's Way Home

Movie review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
A Dog's Way Home Movie Poster Image
Sentimental but sweet dog adventure has intense, sad scenes.
  • PG
  • 2019
  • 96 minutes
Popular with kids

Parents say

age 12+
Based on 50 reviews

Kids say

age 10+
Based on 10 reviews

We think this movie stands out for:

A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

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 & Representations

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

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.

Sex

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.

Language

Infrequent use of words including "hell," "freakin'," and "oh my God." Also insults such as "moron," "shaggy butt," "crazy," and "stupid."

Consumerism

Volvo car.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adult characters have beer and wine.

What 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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byRobin432 January 12, 2019

Not for kids

Movie was terrible. Took my 3 kids (ages 8, 11 & 12) and we should’ve walked out. I didn’t realized that scene after scene it would continued to get w... Continue reading
Adult Written bykwpfaff January 12, 2019

Horrible and not okay for children

Don't take your kids to see this movie! The script is terrible, the seasons make no sense, and the voice is annoying. But what I really can't believe... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written bybookworm3284 January 14, 2019

Don't listen to bad reviews. This is amazing and awe-inspiring. IMPORTANT UPDATE AT BOTTOM.

This movie is wonderful and so emotional and heartwarming. I thought it was better than it's companion, A Dog's Purpose. And yes, I cried once or twic... Continue reading
Teen, 16 years old Written byAshleigh H January 13, 2019

A fun heartfelt film that blends 90s animal movies with more modern sensibilities

A Dog's Way Home is a fun film to cuddle up next to your family or puppy to watch and enjoy a few laughs and to shed some tears. The story itself is a bit... Continue reading

What's the story?

A DOG'S WAY HOME, based on W. Bruce Cameron's same-named book, centers on a pitbull-mix dog named Bella (voiced by Bryce Dallas Howard). Bella starts her life in Denver as a stray pup who lives in an abandoned lot with her mother and littermates. After Bella's mom is caught by animal control, a mama cat nurses Bella and adopts her. One day, Lucas (Jonah Hauer-King), who lives near the lot, shows his crush, Olivia (Alexandra Shipp), the cats. In the process, they discover cute little Bella, and Lucas brings her home to live with him and his mother (Ashley Judd), a veteran who's struggling with depression. For a while, Bella enjoys an idyllic life with Lucas and his mom and even comforts the veterans at the VA hospital where Lucas works (and his mom attends group therapy sessions). But when animal control deems Bella dangerous (because she's part pit) and threatens euthanasia, Lucas teaches her a game called "Go Home" in which she races back to their house. After Lucas is forced to place Bella in the temporary care of Olivia's aunt and uncle in New Mexico, Bella believes she must play "Go Home" and begins her long, perilous journey home.

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.

Talk to your kids about ...

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

  • Discuss how the movie includes diverse representations of dog owners. Why is it important to see people from different walks of life and backgrounds in media?

  • How do the movie's story and Bella's actions promote empathy and perseverance? Why are those important character strengths?

  • How does the movie portray veterans? Is it sympathetic? What do veterans need that they aren't always getting?

Movie details

Character Strengths

Find more movies that help kids build character.

Themes & Topics

Browse titles with similar subject matter.

For kids who love dramas

Our editors recommend

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

See how we rate

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

Our ratings are based on child development best practices. We display the minimum age for which content is developmentally appropriate. The star rating reflects overall quality and learning potential.

Learn how we rate