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"A DOG'S JOURNEY"
(2019) (Kathryn Prescott, Henry Lau) (PG)


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QUICK TAKE:
Drama: A dog's soul ends up reincarnated multiple times over the years as it attempts to follow its previous owner's command that it protect his grandchild.
PLOT:
Following the events of "A Dog's Purpose," Gloria (BETTY GILPIN) is living with her late husband's mom, Hannah (MARG HELGENBERGER), and that woman's new husband, Ethan (DENNIS QUAID), with all helping raise Gloria's little girl, CJ, who was born after her father's death. Along for the ride is Bailey (voice of JOSH GAD, but only heard by viewers and not any human characters), Ethan's trusty dog who just so happens to be the many times over reincarnated soul of his dog from his boyhood many decades earlier and who helped reunite Ethan and Hannah after many years apart.

But things aren't great at the farmhouse, with Gloria thinking that her in-laws believe she's a bad mother and that they're after her late husband's wrongful death case settlement money (they're not). Accordingly, she takes her toddler and moves away, with Ethan telling his beloved dog on its deathbed to protect CJ in its upcoming lives.

Flash forward a number of years and CJ (ABBY RYDER FORTSON) is 11-years-old and best friends with Trent (IAN CHEN). With Gloria emotionally and often physically absent while going out on various dates, CJ sneaks a young puppy into her bedroom. We come to learn that Molly is really Bailey reincarnated and the two become inseparable.

A few years later, CJ (KATHRYN PRESCOTT) is an aspiring singer-songwriter but hasn't gotten up the nerve to perform anywhere in public, much to the chagrin of Trent (HENRY LAU). She starts dating Shane (JAKE MANLEY), but that ends up going badly and, as a result of his actions, Bailey/Molly ends up being reborn into another dog that has a brief interaction with CJ years later, but passes away and is then reincarnated as little Max who once again finds his way to CJ.

At that point, she is living with her boyfriend, Barry (KEVIN CLAYDON), while Trent has moved nearby with his girlfriend, Liesl (DANIELA BARBOSA). From that point on, CJ must contend with not having any contact with her mom for years along with unexpected developments in her and Trent's personal lives, all while Bailey/Max does what he can to follow Ethan's command from long ago to protect CJ.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
I'm certainly far from an expert on reincarnation, but to me it seems it would eventually become exhausting. Granted, as compared to the life of an immortal vampire who's stuck in the same body at the same age for all of eternity, those who are reincarnated go from body to body and thus get to experience new things every time.

Even so, if there's any lingering, carry-over bit of consciousness from person to person to person and so on, at some point the soul who's lived hundreds or thousands of years might eventually have enough of that. At the same time and since they don't have the same sort of cognitive levels of "who am I" self-awareness as humans do, the reincarnated souls of pets might not face such an existential and temporal dilemma.

That was somewhat examined in "A Dog's Purpose" which was based on W. Bruce Cameron's 2010 novel "A Dog's Purpose: A Novel for Humans" in which we followed the soul of a dog named Bailey (whose thoughts were voiced -- and only heard by viewers -- by Josh Gad) as he made his way through various canines over the years, starting and ending with ones owned by the same character (played by Dennis Quaid at the end).

Along the way, he got to witness the good and bad of humans along with repeated deaths (by various means) and reincarnations, all while having his purpose ultimately be bringing two lovers back together again after decades of separation. Interestingly enough, and in consideration of the movie only, I personally would have flipped that title with that of the sequel that now arrives in theaters, "A Dog's Journey."

That's because the story -- based on Cameron's 2012 follow-up title -- gives our returning pooch (or at least his soul) an actual stated purpose as compared to the first go-round. And that's to protect the granddaughter of the original owner over the years as she grows up.

When the story begins, she's just a toddler to widowed Gloria (Betty Gilpin) who's apparently in the running for some sort of worst mom of the year award, much to the chagrin of her mother-in-law (Marg Helgenberger) and her husband (Dennis Quaid). When the bad mom leaves in a huff, Ethan tells Bailey the dog on its deathbed to protect little CJ.

And thus the reincarnation cycle begins again, but this time with a purpose and more actual connective story tissue than the last time around. We see CJ both as an 11-year-old (Abby Ryder Fortson) and then older teenager and twenty-something (Kathryn Prescott), still dealing with a bad mother and going through other personal things in her life, such as having bad taste in men.

But her one constant -- beyond a life-long friend in Trent (played by Ian Chen and Henry Lau in the corresponding years) -- is a dog that loves and, yes, protects her. And there's little doubt that the pooch is going to do his cupid thing again, all while subjecting viewers to a number of heart-wrenching, end of life moments that literally had me tearing up.

So, the film -- directed by Gail Mancuso from a screenplay by Cameron, Maya Forbes, Cathryn Michon and Wallace Wolodarsky -- pretty much follows the blueprint of its predecessor -- as many a sequel is prone and expected to do -- but I think it works better than the original due to following one character over the years rather than many, thus making it feel more cohesive rather than disjointed.

Just make sure to bring your tissues because if you're any sort of pet owner who loves your fur baby, this one will emotionally gut punch you from time to time, including the sweet concluding shot. "A Dog's Journey" rates as a 6 out of 10.




Reviewed May 14, 2019 / Posted May 17, 2019


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