Combustible Celluloid
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With: Josh Gad, Dennis Quaid, Peggy Lipton, K.J. Apa, Bryce Gheisar, Juliet Rylance, Luke Kirby, Gabrielle Rose, Michael Bofshever, Britt Robertson, Logan Miller, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Pooch Hall, John Ortiz, Nicole LaPlaca, Primo Allon, Peter Kelamis, Caroline Cave, Jane McGregor
Written by: W. Bruce Cameron, Cathryn Michon, Audrey Wells, Maya Forbes, Wally Wolodarsky, based on a novel by W. Bruce Cameron
Directed by: Lasse Hallström
MPAA Rating: PG for thematic elements and some peril
Running Time: 120
Date: 01/27/2017

A Dog's Purpose (2017)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Rebound Hound

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The new family-friendly movie A Dog's Purpose is a sweet, tail-wagging treat that, while not exactly dazzlingly original, earns its share of laughter and happy tears.

Yet the movie recently suffered a not-family-friendly setback when a short video surfaced, depicting one of the canine actors apparently reluctant to perform a stunt that involved jumping into a tank of churning water.

The video is shocking, and PETA was outraged; the group has called for a boycott of the movie.

However, the film's producer, Gavin Polone, wrote a long article for the Hollywood Reporter, effectively explaining what really happened, reminding us how overblown things can become, and how an edited piece of video, out of context, can alter perceptions.

Several other cast and crew members joined in, defending their movie. No dogs were harmed at any time, they assert.

Now it remains to be seen whether the damage has been done, and whether families and dog-lovers will head to theaters to see the movie. Those that do may find that it's worth the trip.

Certainly A Dog's Purpose is soft around the edges and looks a great deal like many other family movies, with lilting piano music and an evenly-lit look, sunny for happy sequences, and cloudy for sad ones.

But Swedish-born director Lasse Hallström, who made the wonderful, Oscar-nominated coming-of-age tale My Life as a Dog (1987), as well as another lovable dog movie, Hachi: A Dog's Tale (2009), keeps things on an even keel.

Admittedly, the movie has some awkward rough edges, such as a poorly-drawn bully character, but overall, Hallström never lets the slapstick get too stupid, nor the tragic stuff get too maudlin.

The plot involves a thoughtful dog, pleasingly voiced by Josh Gad, wondering what life is all about and returning to earth in several different incarnations until he gets the idea. He appears as a Golden Retriever, a German Shepherd police dog, a Corgi, and a St. Bernard-Australian Shepherd mix, among others.

His purpose has something to do with Ethan, a once-promising football star whom he meets as a boy, and again as a mature man (Dennis Quaid). He also meets a lonely Chicago policeman (John Ortiz) and a lonely student (Kirby Howell-Baptiste), helping them feel a little more loved.

Dog movies get a bad rap, and they're certainly not easy to make, or make well. Maybe they're a like a doggie lick in the face, a little annoying and a little wonderful, and, depending on the moment, they can elicit a frown or a smile. This one gets a smile.

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