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A Dog's Purpose (2017)

Universal Studios Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 5/2/2017

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Review by Mike Long, Posted on 5/11/2017

Over the years, as America has become more diverse and international, so has Hollywood. From the expressionism of the German directors who came California in the 1930s to the more recent obsession with Asian cinema, movies in the United States have become a melting-pot of visual styles. And, it could be said that there has been an evolution of ideas as well. As new players enter the movie industry, they brought their individual cultures with them. However, something which we don't see very often in Hollywood movies is the idea of reincarnation. The idea of a person being reborn as a new creature, which comes from Hinduism and Buddhism, is something in which millions around the world believe, so it's not necessarily surprising to see it finally work its way into a movie. Now, the fact that it involves dogs, that's a bit of a shocker.

A Dog's Purpose follows the path of a dog (voiced by Josh Gad) who moves through five different lives over several decades. During these times the dog inhabits different breeds and genders. The bulk of the story involves a retriever who is adopted by a boy named Ethan, who calls the dog Bailey. Bailey and Ethan are inseparable, even when Ethan (KJ Apa) gets a girlfriend (Britt Robertson) and becomes a football star. But, Ethan's homelife isn't always happy. His dad (Luke Kirby) is a frustrated businessman who turns to alcohol and taking out his frustrations on his family. Bailey doesn't understand why Ethan is often sad, but he does his best to comfort him. Following the time with Ethan, the dog spends time as a police dog and being a companion for a lonely woman. But, as the pooch moves from life-to-life, it retains memories of its past lives, and it never forgets the special bond it had with Ethan.

Well, I can certainly say that I've never seen that particular plot before. And this is what makes A Dog's Purpose such an oddly intriguing film. Again, the notion of reincarnation isn't exactly blazing its way through a lot of Hollywood movies, and when this idea does arise, it usually has to do with human beings. Author W. Bruce Cameron utilizes this concept to create a story which is actually an anthology of stories about dogs. The connecting thread is that all of the dogs are the same being. This allows him to focus on the various ways in which dogs can interact with humans, without the whole affair feelings like a series of disjointed, unrelated tales. This approach also allows for twist which arises in the final story, and helps to shape fairly cohesive narrative.

The flipside of this is that outside of this novel concept, the movie doesn't offer much in the way of originality. We've seen "a boy and his dog" stories in the past (which should not be confused with A Boy and His Dog, as that is an unique story), and A Dog's Purpose really sticks to the cliches when it comes to this sort of narrative. While we can see what is happening, the story is narrated by the dog, and we get the typical comments about how they don't understand human behavior or what certain objects are called. Again, the bulk of the story focuses on Ethan and Bailey and this segment contains very familiar elements such as Bailey comforting Ethan or tense moments when Bailey does something bad and Ethan's Dad overreacts. The story with the lonely woman (Kirby Howell-Baptiste) comes the closest to offering something somewhat new, as the dog is able to help this introverted lady get out into the world.

While A Dog's Purpose doesn't crack new ground, outside of the reincarnation plot, the film is very well-made. Veteran Director Lasse Hallstrom handles the drama and more light-hearted moments very well, and there are certainly some touching scenes here. There are some familiar faces amongst the cast and the dogs are clearly well-trained. The pacing is good for the most part, although the Ethan and Bailey story could have used some trimming. Those who love dogs will certainly enjoy the film, and while there's no offensive material here, as you can guess, the movie does deal with four dogs dying, so it may be not be appropriate for the little ones. If nothing else, A Dog's Purpose works as a curiosity piece, as it's the weirdest, and yet most cliched, mainstream family film that I've seen in a long time.

A Dog's Purpose could have used some more cats on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Universal Studios Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no grain and no defects from the source materials. The colors look fantastic, most notably the greens and reds, and the picture is never overly dark or bright. The image has a notable crispness to it and you feel as if you could step into the shots. These moments provide impressive depth and the level of detail is great. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.8 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. We don't get an abundance of dynamic audio effects here, save for a brief football game scene and a scene in which the police dog is in pursuit. These scenes provide obvious surround and stereo effects and do a nice job of highlighting sounds coming from off-screen.

The A Dog's Purpose Blu-ray Disc offers a few extra features. "Lights, Camera, Woof!" (9 minutes) focuses on the dogs used in the film and offers a great deal of on-set footage. We see how the dogs were motivated to act and how stand ins were used at times. "A Writer's Purpose" (5 minutes) profiles Writer W. Bruce Cameron and his wife/co-writer Cathryn Michon, as Cameron talks about the origins of the story. The Disc contains fifteen DELETED SCENES which run about 9 minutes. There are several moments of additional doggie action here, but no new characters or subplots. We get a 2-minute reel of OUTTAKES which offer some doggie bloopers.

Review Copyright 2017 by Mike Long