Review: A Dog’s Purpose is a canine existential crisis with no bark and no bite

Dennis Quaid and reincarnated four-legged friend in Lasse Hallström’s A Dog’s Purpose. Picture: Joe

Dennis Quaid and reincarnated four-legged friend in Lasse Hallströms A Dogs Purpose. Picture: Joe Lederer/Storyteller - Credit: PA

Love never dies, nor does the four-legged hero in Lasse Hallström's film that goes from beautiful coming of age drama to the Tibetan Book of the Dead with dogs.

A Dog's Purpose (12A)


Based on the novel by W Bruce Cameron, A Dog's Purpose is a canine existential crisis, a mutt's search for meaning and enlightenment, through various reincarnations.

Starting in the late 1950s a dog initially called Bailey (voiced by Josh Gad) goes through various lives, coming back as various breeds, changing sex, and going through various owners, from loving to cruel, each of them leading him towards a greater understanding of his existence.

It's the Tibetan Book of the Dead but with doggies; the Ah, Isn't He Cute path to enlightenment. When a film opens with a dog wondering about the meaning of life, then it's getting so a chap doesn't know if he's being dumbed down, or having his expectations being cheekily subverted. It's rubbish either way.

What ADP reminds you of is a Disney film. Not the slick, modern box office behemoth Disney films, but the old, rubbishy, live action, Wonderful World of Disney kids films that were full of animals whose thoughts were voiced by actors, but none that were reincarnated.

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The film is so coy about the first reincarnation that I thought maybe I'd misunderstood, especially as the film is nearly halfway through before the next death and rebirth happens. Because it devotes nearly half its time to the story of the dog belonging to a young kid who is destined to be a star quarterback, all the subsequent stories become rushed.

And how come dogs can remember their past lives? No human outside of Shirley MacLaine can. Still there is a canny calculation at work here; it's a fearsome weepie because they can keep killing off the dog without seeming cruel.

Through this process of recycling, the dog gets to move towards nirvana. For foreign film directors moving to Hollywood, the process is often the reverse. They make some small and wonderful film in their own country and move to the film capital of the world full of drive and ambition but the system gradually beats that out of them.

In his native Sweden, a long long time ago, Lasse Hallström once made a beautiful coming of age drama called My Life As A Dog. Now, in Hollywood he is turning out My Lives As A Dog. The bones are enormous, but it is still a dog's life.

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