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Lives of dogs

Dennis Quaid and Bailey (Joe Lederer/Universal Pictures)

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Lives of dogs

A Dog’s Purpose is a heartwarming tale with an odd premise

Can “man’s best friend” help him answer one of life’s most important questions? Bailey (voiced by Josh Gad), a golden retriever and narrator in the new film A Dog’s Purpose, asks himself, “Why am I here?” But the film’s writers and director Lasse Hallström playfully suggest that seeing things from a dog’s perspective can teach us leash holders a thing or two about ourselves.

Bailey perceptively deciphers his owners’ feelings, recognizing and sometimes sharing in their loneliness and longing for pizza. (Call this movie The Secret Thought Life of Pets?) But he usually fails to explain their actions. For example, when high-school football star Ethan (K.J. Apa) kisses his girlfriend, Hannah (Britt Robertson), Bailey thinks Ethan’s looking in her mouth for food. When adversity befalls his human caretakers, Bailey can’t figure out why Hannah stops visiting. Still, he knows Ethan is sad.

Viewers will feel sad when Bailey dies—the first time. But not the fourth time. Four go-arounds less well-off than the proverbial cat, Bailey lives out five lives in the film. After each untimely departure, he comes back years later in a different breed’s body and belonging to a different owner. In order for one dog to tell a story that begins in 1950 and ends in the present day, canine reincarnation is an understandable (but just plain weird) plot device. 

Thankfully, A Dog’s Purpose, based on the W. Bruce Cameron novel, doesn’t propose a similar eschatology for humans. Instead, the mildly amusing film develops into a love story that’s modestly appealing to adults and almost entirely safe for children. Thematic elements and some peril earn the film a PG rating: It serves up just one tasteless double entendre. Dog lovers in the audience will gush over the many close-ups of furry faces and feel confirmation of every anthropomorphic mannerism they’ve suspected of their pooches.

As the film ends, Bailey concludes that his purpose is to “be here now” (Shar-Pei diem in dog Latin, I believe) and “lick the ones you love.” Maybe God did design dogs to provide His highest creation with a measure of companionship. But people who look to anything other than the cross for God’s purpose in their lives are barking up the wrong tree.

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  • Laneygirl's picture
    Laneygirl
    Posted: Sat, 01/28/2017 08:53 am

    Shar-Pei Diem!! You are hilarious!!