Thanks to Sony Pictures Releasing for the chance to see A Dog’s Way Home before its national release. This is our review of the movie, but as usual, no matter what we say, we still recommend you to go and see it at your local cinema because there is no better critic than yourself!
I consider myself someone who often prefers the company of four-legged animals, especially dogs, to those with two. So a film adaption of W. Bruce Cameron’s same-titled novel, A Dog’s Way Home, about a condemned pit-bull named Bella, who attempts to return to her beloved owner in Denver, Colorado from Farmington, New Mexico, seemed right up my alley. The problem was, so many moments of cringeworthiness and saccharine overload left me wondering if I was watching a family adventure film – as it’s categorised – or a laughable, hammy drama.
Bella, a pit-bull puppy orphaned and raised by a mother cat along with her litter of kittens, is discovered by Lucas (Jonah Hauer-King) and Olivia (Alexandra Shipp) at a construction site overseen by Gunter (Brian Markinson), the real estate villain of the story. Lucas, an aspiring medical student with cute dimples who does voluntary work at the Veteran Associations Centre, is a likeable character, who is ‘chosen’ by Bella as her owner and friend. Lucas’ mother, Terri (Ashley Judd), is recovering from PTSD and frequents the centre her son helps out at. Together, they intrinsically accept Bella as part of their family, with Terri and her VA buddies reaping emotional and psychological benefits from Bella’s visits to their counselling sessions.
Due to archaic council laws, Bella’s pit-bull breed means she’s not allowed on the streets of her home in Denver, Colorado. Enter the other villain, Chuck (John Cassini), who is determined to catch and euthanise her. Chuck is in cahoots with Gunter, it’s later revealed. As an animal lover and perrenial renter it proved difficult not to “boo!” the dog catcher and real estate dealer whenever they appeared on screen. The majority of the movie is Bella’s quest to return home, a command Lucas taught her to evade Chuck and company. This becomes a 600 kilometre-plus journey from Farmington, New Mexico back to Colorado via the Rocky Mountains.
The performance by Bella, played by Shelby and Amber, is sweet and, at times, remarkable. The scenes where Bella feigns a leg injury- spoiler alert!- is almost Oscar-worthy. But her friend “Big Kitten”, a cougar cub she crosses paths with during infancy and again in adulthood, is laughable, due to the blatantly obvious and dire CGI (cougar graphically imagined) of the creature. And the avalanche. And the wolf pack fighting scene. Did I mention all these pivotal events are also revealed in the movie trailer?
For sheer beauty, the panoramic landscapes of ‘Colorado’ (Vancouver, British Columbia) are exceptional. And Bella’s performance is heartwarming and noteworthy. I don’t feel her character required the anthropomorphic touch of a voice-over by Bryce Dallas Howard; I would have enjoyed the film more if Bella had not uttered a word. A Dog’s Way Home is a wonderful film for little children, but a multi-layered sententious story for anyone out of kindergarten: a mixed-race relationship between Lucas and Olivia; an accepted married gay couple; war veterans with PTSD; a depressed homeless man…more Disney than Disney, it seemed. I was just as keen to get home, as Bella, as the credits rolled.
In Cinemas 28 February 2019