Greg, could it be that a dog’s journey is the same as the hero’s journey?
Maybe… but could this be the Mentor’s Journey? Let’s find out…
We meet a dog named Bailey (Josh Gad), an elderly canine living with an aging couple named Ethan (Dennis Quaid) and Hannah (Marg Helgenberger). Also living with Ethan and Hannah are their daughter-in-law Gloria (Betty Gilpin) and her daughter CJ (Kathryn Prescott). Gloria is an incompetent mother who doesn’t get along with her in-laws, and she moves out, taking CJ with her. Meanwhile, Bailey develops a tumor and must be put down.
You may remember from the prequel A Dog’s Purpose Bailey can reincarnate as new dogs – yet still, find his original master to help and support them. Ethan implores Bailey to take care of CJ, now that Ethan is Okay. And Bailey does, in fact, come back as Molly, then Big Dog, and finally Max, to take care of CJ.
Greg, we’ve talked many times about movie heroes having many of the Great Eight traits of heroes. But one of the eight is rarely mentioned – the trait of reliability and loyalty.
A Dog’s Journey is a celebration of a dog’s fierce loyalty to her owner. Our hero is a dog playing the role of a Guardian Angel whose life purpose is to protect a small girl raised by a bad mother. The child’s grandfather assigns this mission to the dog that is reincarnated repeatedly as a new dog who must somehow find the girl and look after her well-being. The premise sounds silly and trite, but this story is impeccably crafted and packs a powerful emotional punch.
A Dog’s Journey reminds me of why I love movies. Besides offering a heartwarming story, the film has the genius ability in giving us many characters whom we care deeply about. There are the loving grandparents who only want what’s best for CJ. There is the childhood friend of CJ who is her soulmate, even into adulthood. And then there is CJ herself, a sweet kid who lacks self-confidence because of her mother’s neglect and criticism. But she never stops trying, never gives up hope, and always loves those around her, including (and especially) her dogs.
You don’t have to believe in reincarnation to appreciate the magical transference of Bailey’s soul from one dog to the next. Movie magic is one of those things that permeates our favorite movies, such as Big, Splash, Groundhog Day, and Freaky Friday. No one needs a scientific explanation, nor do we need to hold any particular religious belief. We just roll with it and are happy that movie magic can serve as the basis for such a lovely, heartfelt story.
Scott, I heartily agree. First off, I love movies about dogs. And I love movies about daughters. So, A Dog’s Journey is a double-whammy that went straight for my heartstrings. I call this a “Hallmark movie” for dog lovers. I was unabashedly weeping happy tears by the end of this film. It was corny, saccharine, predictable, formulaic, emotionally manipulative and … I loved every minute.
While the main character of the story is Bailey, the dog. The hero of the story is actually CJ. She is the one who undergoes a transformation, overcomes her missing inner quality of feeling unloved, and ultimately forgives her terrible mother. So I wonder if A Dog’s Journey isn’t a special case where the main character is actually a Mentor rather than a Hero.
You’re right that Bailey has all the qualities we look for in a hero. But he doesn’t really have a path to fixing himself. In the past, we’ve called this kind of hero the “catalytic hero” or “change agent.” This is a hero who doesn’t undergo a change but impacts others or society as a whole. Yet, I wonder if this isn’t a Mentor’s Journey. As such, it would be unique among the story patterns we’ve seen in the recent past.
Greg, a cynic might say that A Dog’s Journey is a shallow and emotionally manipulative movie, but I found it to be a heartwarming portrayal of all the reasons why dogs are humanity’s best friend. Dogs love us unconditionally and find ways to protect us and look after our well-being. This movie also gives us a powerful redemption story, with Gloria not only cleaning up her act but making amends to CJ. Stories like this should give us all hope for humanity. I give A Dog’s Journey 4 Reels out of 5.
You could say that this movie tells a buddy hero story, with CJ and Bailey forever connected and taking care of each other. I could also be convinced that CJ is the hero with Bailey as mentor, or that Bailey is the hero with CJ giving Bailey a sense of purpose. It really doesn’t matter — the heroes here are terrific, and the story is lovely and would probably even make Ebenezer Scrooge shed a tear or two. Our heroes help each other, and in the end, people looking out for each other may be the central purpose of life. I give these heroes 5 full Hero points out of 5.
The message of the movie may be as simple as appreciating the beautiful unconditional love of dogs in our lives. Moreover, the message may be as deep as the idea of the universe somehow finding a way to look out for us when we’re lost, hurting, and vulnerable. Both messages may be in play here, and they are both powerful. I give this film 5 Message points out of 5.
I enjoyed myself in A Dog’s Journey but it lacked any real substance for me to give it a high rating. The performances were fine, but the characters were all drawn thinly. There’s nothing wrong with a simple film that tells a tale that tugs at the heartstrings. But I wouldn’t want a diet composed strictly of saccharine treats. I give A Dog’s Journey 3 out of 5 Reels.
I can’t help but love Bailey. He’s a nice “unreliable narrator” with his dog’s view of the world as well as a dose of naivete. I think of him as a sort of Jiminy Cricket mentor character. I’m tempted to downgrade his Hero score for that reason. But… I love Bailey and all the dogs Bailey represents. so I am giving him a “Good Dog” score of 3 out of 5 Heroes.
Finally, the message here is muddied as it’s not really a message film. But if we were all servant mentors the way Bailey is, the world would be a better place. I give A Dog’s Journey 2 out of 5 Message points.