This film, a sappy, family-friendly tribute to man’s best friend, follows a reincarnated dog through several lives. Rating: 2 stars out of 4.

Share story

Screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky said there are two kinds of scenes in screenplays: “the Pet the Dog scene and the Kick the Dog scene.” Canine love letter “A Dog’s Purpose” manages to work in both.

You might be surprised that this sappy, family-friendly tribute to man’s best friend kills its main character within mere moments.

A stray puppy is snapped up by an evil, net-wielding dogcatcher, and soon he’s off to that nice farm in the sky, before his rebirth. This serves as the starting point for the circle of life and metaphysical journey of our puppy protagonist.

Movie Review ★★  

‘A Dog’s Purpose,’ with Dennis Quaid, Bryce Gheisar, K.J. Apa and the voice of Josh Gad. Directed by Lasse Hallström, from a screenplay by W. Bruce Cameron, Cathryn Michon, Audrey Wells and Maya Forbes, based on a book by W. Bruce Cameron. 120 minutes. Rated PG for thematic elements and some peril. Several theaters.

From a Judeo-Christian perspective, the prevailing notion may be that all dogs indeed go to heaven, but “A Dog’s Purpose,” based on the book by W. Bruce Cameron and directed by Lasse Hallström, takes a different approach, suggesting that dogs are constantly reincarnated.

We follow the lives of a pup voiced by Josh Gad: first, briefly, the stray puppy; then a red retriever named Bailey in the 1960s and ’70s; Ellie, a German Shepherd K-9 police dog; Tino, a chubby ’80s corgi; and finally Buddy, a neglected St. Bernard with a long road home.

For all his shapes, forms and lives, it’s always Bailey inside there, retaining all the memories and experiences along the way. Bailey’s a rather existential dog, constantly questioning the meaning of life and the reason he is where he is. Is it to have fun? To make humans happy? That seems to be the case, but Bailey just can’t stop questioning.

Oddly enough, he settles on “be here now.” Who knew yogi and spiritual teacher Ram Dass had four-legged followers?

The real problem here, though, is it’s painfully cheesy pablum.

There is a late-breaking scandal harshing the buzz around this feel-good animal flick, involving a troubling TMZ video of a reluctant dog, an aggressive trainer and a dangerous water stunt. This does threaten the possible success of the film, but the fact remains that with or without a scandal, what was there in the first place has all the emotional resonance of a dog-themed coffee-table book. Adorable, but ultimately forgettable.