Animal lovers will unanimously agree that there’s a reason we turn to our pets for comfort. Their unconditional love, combined with the cute and funny things they do are perhaps what makes them one of life’s greatest pleasures.
Domesticated animals in particular are so dependent on their human companions – from being fed to being walked – it’s no wonder we tend to be more emotional when we see an animal in a sticky situation – or worse. A Dog’s Way Home starts off as a sweet, simple family flick, until humans come into the picture and ruin everything.
Adapted from the novel of the same name by W. Bruce Cameron, Bella (voiced by Bryce Dallas Howard), an adorable pit-bull mix, lives with her aspiring medic owner Lucas (Jonah Hauer-King) and his veteran mother, Terri (Ashley Judd). They have a seemingly lovely life, filled with heart-warming moments.
But in a film that deliberately wants to pull at your heartstrings, of course, nothing lasts forever. Lucas and Terri are forced to send Bella to live with a friend temporarily because of Colorado’s strict pit bull ban, despite the fact that Bella looks nothing like a pit bull, and she’s not aggressive at all. Confused by her new surroundings, Bella escapes and embarks on an epic 643km journey back to Lucas.
Following a narrative we’ve seen before, borrowing from films like Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey (1993), Bella treks through mountainous terrain, and faces obstacles in the form of a pack of hungry coyotes and limited food sources. She even befriends an orphaned cougar whom she calls “Big Kitten”, and takes her under her wing for safe keeping.
But despite the cute animals and generally tame action sequences, the movie is weakened by a series of particularly bizarre unsettling storylines. Perhaps the most horrifying is when Bella ends up living with a homeless veteran for a few months because she is “good for business.”
Sweet and understanding Bella remains loyal to this man, despite him having her on a leash 24/7. In possibly the most haunting scene in the film, Bella nearly starves and dies of dehydration after he chains her to his body and promptly dies by the side of a rarely visited river.
The director of the film, Charles Martin, powers through these dark moments very quickly, not really adding any depth or meaning to the film. Howard’s lacklustre voice over performance is also a bit devoid of humour and emotion (but this is perhaps owing to the shallow scriptwriting).
The star of the film is no doubt Bella, the adorable mutt whose soulful eyes will melt even the coldest of hearts. The creators of the film picked Shelby – a rescue dog that was found living in a junkyard – out of hundreds of other pooches, and groomed her for stardom.
For a movie with a lot going on, A Dog’s Way Home has a lot missing – perhaps most striking is its inability to delve deeper into some of the important issues presented in the film: homelessness and war time trauma. But anyone who loves dogs will surely appreciate the heart-warming moments between Bella and Lucas, and will enjoy having their heartstrings pulled.