A Dog’s Purpose

Apr 30, 2017 | Posted by in 2017, Movies
A Dog's Purpose

A reincarnating Dog tries to figure out what his purpose in life is over the course of several lifetimes with different owners in Lasse Hallström’s A Dog’s Purpose.

Summing up the premise of this film makes it sound ludicrous and in some ways it is but that’s the beauty of fiction as far as I’m concerned. I really enjoy when outlandish ideas are explored to deliver a new perspective on something familiar. Stories about people pondering the meaning of life are a dime a dozen and definitely vary in quality. Using a Dog as the focus of existential musings is unique and interesting so the film has a solid footing to build on.

The execution isn’t half bad either. Josh Gad voices the consciousness of the Dog living out several lifetimes and the voice he provides is an endearing one. His delivery always has a naive enthusiasm about it and the script always sprinkles in an appropriate dose of Dog specific thoughts to accompany the larger questions concerning the meaning of life. It’s always amusing to be given a possible explanation for why a Dog chases a Cat or gets so easily distracted.

Most of the film takes place in the lifetime of a Dog named Bailey who forms an inseparable bond with his owner, Ethan (Bryce Gheisar as a child and K.J. Apa as a teenager). It’s a really well developed relationship that feels authentic throughout. The bond between a boy and his Dog underpins the entire film and getting everything from Bailey’s perspective definitely makes it feel unique.

A Dog's PurposeThe trade-off is that a lot of the major events in Ethan’s life are glossed over. His alcoholic father is something that essentially comes out of nowhere and is never really resolved. It’s a symptom of the perspective of the story not being Ethan but it can feel like massive chunks of plot are missing.

Once Bailey’s life is over we see some others such as his time as a female Police Dog, the companion to a lonely woman and a neglected Dog in a rough area. All of these have the same problem in that they feel rushed. They’re necessary to further the idea of reincarnation but it’s impossible to invest in them as there isn’t enough time to develop the relationship between owner and pet. These scenes do help with the eventual pay off but they are definitely rushed.

The central relationship is definitely between Josh Gad’s consciousness and Ethan who appears in one of his later lives as a much older man played by Dennis Quaid. It’s really satisfying to see them reconnect as long as you can accept the conceit that allows it to happen. The story has something of a fairytale quality to it so I had no problem with accepting anything it threw at me.

Naturally there are a number of moments designed to move the audience and there are some that work very well. Any film that shows Dogs dying is going to provoke a reaction from a lot of people and this film handles the deaths with a great deal of sincerity. Even in the less developed lives there is a reason to mourn the end of that relationship and knowing that the consciousness will return doesn’t alter the fact that the people left behind will be deeply affected. The film hits the mark pretty much every time, particularly with Bailey’s passing which takes the crown as the most powerful.


A well put together story that explores the meaning of life from a Dog’s perspective. The combination of Josh Gad’s excellent vocal performance and sharp writing that offers potential explanations for Dog behaviour allows this to work really well and the shifted perspective feels unique. The central relationship between one of the Dog’s lives named Bailey and Ethan comes across nicely though the major events in Ethan’s life feel a little thin because the story isn’t focusing on them. Any of the Dog’s lives outside of Bailey feel underdeveloped by comparison even though they’re necessary to the overall reincarnation plot. They do result in a satisfying conclusion but they still feel rushed. The film does a great job delivering powerful emotional moments with the standout being Bailey’s passing.

  • 8/10
    A Dog's Purpose - 8/10


Kneel Before…

  • Josh Gad’s performance
  • clever writing
  • a strong central relationship
  • powerful emotional moments

Rise Against…

  • major events in the lives of the humans feeling thin
  • most of the lives feeling rushed and underdeveloped
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