Pretty much everyone loves animals. But do we really know animals? What's in their souls? What are they thinking? And most importantly, in the case of A Dog's Purpose, we're meant to ask what, indeed, is their purpose in life? Sadly, the movie that asks these heady questions doesn't even bother to answer them, at least in a satisfactory way that would make any sort of substantial impact on its audience.
Bailey (Josh Gad) is a dog who is searching for his purpose in life. Through various incarnations, identities, and breeds, our narrator will explore the biggest conundrum of any living being. With each new life comes new complications, lessons, and smells for our protagonist to experience. But little does he know that his experiences will lead him back to the one human who meant the most to his entire journey (played by Dennis Quaid).
A Dog's Purpose isn't a movie. It's a greeting card with fur, and a borderline cloying narration. The fact that the narration didn't get on my nerves and make me rage at this movie is probably the only good thing to come out of this waste of digital hard drive space. Gad, as well as the rest of the human cast, should be given full credit for actually holding this movie together, despite the fact that there's very little to hold the film together with. Sure, the various dogs are adorable, but with that adorable and humorous nature comes the intense emotions of seeing each of these dogs, save for our final incarnation, die through various causes. I'll save you some time and list them here, so stop when you've read the one that gets to you the most: euthanasia (twice,) bleeding out from a gunshot wound, and old age. I could be forgetting a couple, but you get the point: dog death is one of A Dog's Purpose's stocks in trade, and it barely gives you enough time to grieve one dog before laughing with another, and grieving again.
The other large component of A Dog's Purpose's story is humor, and it's not very good humor at that. It's all good natured, wholesome and clean joshing that your kids and your grandma can enjoy in-between crying jags. Of course, this is in the moments where the human characters aren't fitting the cliched roles of lonely and/or abusive dog people. It's a real shame too, because Lasse Hallstrom's pedigree is on minimal display with this film, by retaining the visually lush look of films from his past. In fact, it's the scenery of the rural Michigan settings in A Dog's Purpose that really break up the visual style of the film. Sadly, not everything is this gorgeous, so this technically isn't a saving grace, so much as a break from the monotony of the rest of the film. Well, that and Dennis Quaid's small part in the film is rather endearing, showing how overlooked his talents are in modern Hollywood.
If A Dog's Purpose had gone a little edgier with its narration, or dropped it altogether, there's a chance that this film could have legitimately been entertaining, while taking on the weighty subject of existence and mortality. Instead, it eschews any sense of true thought for the philosophy of a motivational poster, at the expense of several dog's fictional lives. Frankly, if you like seeing cute animals dying, humans acting abusive and emotionally stunted, and have been longing for a mashup of cute animals and inspirational memes, then you're the perfect target audience for A Dog's Purpose. If you don't qualify for any of those categories, then you can easily wait until the closing address of this film becomes a Facebook meme your relatives post on your wall, as that's basically the sum total of what you'll be getting out of this emotionally and thematically vapid film.