March 3, 2017
A dog movie is a distinct genre of its own. These are usually wholesome, usually sentimental family films about a child and an adorable dog he loves dearly. Quite a number of these films featuring all sorts of canine breeds had been made since the silents era to the present, both live action and animated form. Several of these canine stars became really famous, from Rin Tin Tin in the 1920s, to Lassie in the 1940s, Benji in the 1970s, and Beethoven in the 1990s.
This new film is unabashed in its sentimentality from the title and poster alone. You know there was going to be a cute Golden Retriever in there to tug at our heartstrings. We see the adventures of Bailey in the 1960s as beloved pet of Ethan Montgomery up to his teen years. Bailey was always with Ethan through his highs (meeting his girlfriend Hannah) and lows (his father's descent into alcoholism).
In a departure from other dog films, the second half of this film follows Bailey's soul in his subsequent reincarnations as Ellie, a heroic German Shepherd police dog, then as Tino, a feisty Welsh Corgi of a college girl, and finally as Buddy, a sad St. Bernard abandoned by his irresponsible owners. As Bailey goes from one incarnation to another, can he ever learn and achieve his real purpose of existence?
Again unlike most live action dog films, we get to hear the thoughts of Bailey (as well as Ellie, Tino and Buddy) via the voice of Josh Gad, who of course injected the character with his infectious sense of humor. As this film was told from Bailey's point of view, Ethan was portrayed lovingly, as how a loyal dog would regard his master -- by Bryce Gheisar, KJ Apa (the New Zealander actor who plays Archie on the current TV series "Riverdale") and veteran actor Dennis Quaid at different ages.
As expected from the dog films we have seen before, there will be heartwarming scenes of dog and master bonding, as well as heartbreaking scenes of dogs saying goodbye. In this film of three dog reincarnations, there will of course be three scenes of dogs dying. If you've seen other dog films, you know one scene of a dog dying is tear-jerking enough. For me though, the scene which really made my tears well up was one of pure ecstatic joy.
Respected Swedish director Lasse Hallström had similar themed films before in his long career: "My Life as a Dog" (1985) for which he received his first Oscar nomination for Best Director; and "Hachi: A Dog's Tale" (2009). The screenplay was by humorist W. Bruce Cameron and his wife Cathryn Michon based on Cameron's own 2010 novel. The release of this film was marred by news of animal abuse on the set, which were all fortunately proven to be false (unlike the local film "Oro").
Dog lovers of all ages will definitely be entertained by this film, enveloped by its love for man's best friend. The story of this film is wish-fulfillment for everyone who had that one beloved dog who went to heaven too soon. I do not have a dog now, but I recalled fondly my own special dog that I loved in my childhood. Who knows, maybe my dog and I could also come full circle again someday in the future. 7/10.