A DOG’S WAY HOME

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Charles Martin Smith

Stars: Ashley Judd, JonahHauer-King, Alexnadra Shipp, Edward James Olmos, Wes Studi, John Cassini, Chris Bauer, Barry Watson, Motell Gyn Foster, Patrick Gallagher, voice of Bryce Dallas Howard.

A Dog's Way Home (2019)

As a pup the pit bull terrier Bella was raised in the crawl space beneath an abandoned and dilapidated house in a residential street in Denver which she shared with a litter of feral cats. She was rescued by Lucas (Jonah Hauer-King, from Postcards From London, etc), who lived in a house opposite, and his girlfriend Olivia (Alexandra Shipp, from Love, Simon, etc) who had regularly fed the cats. Lucas lives at home with his single mother Terri (Ashley Judd, the Divergent series, etc), a former military veteran who suffers from depression and undergoes therapy in the local VA hospital. Bella proves to have great therapeutical value for some of the damaged and traumatised veterans that Terri works with.

But then a run in with Gunter (Brian Markinson), a vindictive real estate developer, sees Bella threatened by Chuck (John Cassini), the relentless and uncaring local dog catcher, who is the villain of the piece. According to Chuck, pit bulls are illegal in Denver. To save Bella Lucas reluctantly sends her away to New Mexico to live with some friends. But Bella runs away and begins to make her way across a harsh wilderness to return home to Lucas. Along the way Bella touches the lives of many people she encounters during her dangerous and treacherous cross-country journey. She even befriends an orphaned mountain lion cub.

A Dog’s Way Home is a family friendly and heart-warming feel good animal adventure that combines elements of classics of the genre like Lassie Come Home, Homeward Bound, The Incredible Journey, and even 2017’s A Dog’s Purpose. Not surprising actually, as A Dog’s Way Home was written by W Bruce Cameron, who also wrote A Dog’s Purpose, and is the second part of a trilogy. He has adapted his novel to the screen in collaboration with Cathryn Michon, who co-wrote that film. A Dog’s Way Home also manages to work in some important and topical themes like the care of animals and animal welfare, the plight of veterans and the homeless which gives the material a bit of a harder edge. The filmmakers cram a lot into its brisk 96-minute running time. The film is sentimental and manipulative and takes audiences on something of an emotional roller coaster ride.

The film has been directed by Charles Martin Smith, a former actor who appeared in films like American Graffiti and The Untouchables before establishing himself behind the camera with films like Air Bud and A Dolphin’s Tale and lots of episodic television work. Smith is familiar with the demands of working with animal performers and augmenting their lovable antics and facial expressions through the clever use of CGI.

A rescue dog named Shelby plays Bella here as is wonderful and has plenty of energy and charisma. Bryce Dallas Howard gives voice to Bella’s thoughts, and her internal monologues give us insight into her perspective. The technique is not overdone, and thankfully no other animals in the movie talk. The ensemble cast features Edward James Olmos as a homeless veteran, Barry Watson and Motell Gyn Foster as a couple of gay hikers, Wes Studi and Chris Bauer, as some of the people whose lives are touched by Bella during her journey.

This is a fairly familiar and conventional narrative, but it would be a hard heart indeed that would not be moved at some point by Bella’s incredible odyssey. The film has been beautifully shot by cinematographer Peter Menzies jr (Peter Rabbit, etc) who captures some gorgeous vistas of the American landscape. Mychael Danna’s score is also quite evocative.

A Dog’s Way Home has its heart in the right place and will certainly appeal to animal lovers, and particularly dog lovers, and anyone who enjoys good wholesome animal action.

★★★☆

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