A Dog’s Purpose Parent Review

This dog-lover's film is almost certain to make you cry -- and could prove a bit more frightening for young children than might be expected.

Overall B+

In this feel-good movie, a dog (voice of Josh Gad) wonders about his purpose as he lives and relives his life as a pet to various owners.

Violence C+
Sexual Content A-
Profanity A-
Substance Use C

A Dog’s Purpose is rated PG for thematic elements and some peril.

Movie Review

A Dog’s Purpose celebrates those furry companions that many of us have offered a place in our homes and/or hearts. And, especially those who have become a legitimate member of the family pack. However, the title of this movie assumes a question: What role do dogs play in our lives and in society in general? This film’s purpose is to answer that question, and it does so with a generous helping of sentiment and emotional drama.

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Josh Gad provides the voice of Bailey, Ellie, Tino and Buddy—four canines who live diverse lives yet who are all the embodiment of a singular soul. The tale really gets wagging in 1961 when a Red Retriever is spotted in a locked, overheated truck by young Ethan (Bryce Gheisar) and his mother (Juliet Rylance). After the rescue, Ethan convinces his reluctant father (Luke Kirby) to allow him to keep the puppy, and “Bailey” becomes a member of the family. The boy and dog remain fast friends, even as Ethan becomes a teenager (K.J. Apa), falls in love (Britt Robertson), and works through the challenges found at home and at school. Shortly after Ethan leaves for college, the loyal pooch succumbs to old age.

But in an instant, Bailey is reborn as Ellie, a K-9 companion in the Chicago Police department. It’s a satisfying duty, although short lived. Next he’s reincarnated as a Corgi named Tino and enjoys being the companion to a doting master (Kirby Howell-Baptiste) who offers him her favourite junk food and a full life as a family pet. Then comes Buddy, an Australian Shepherd/St. Bernard mix who endures several years as a neglected yard dog. Unbeknownst to the pitiful pup, a great reward is yet to come. Throughout all these incarnations, the spirit of Bailey persists and he continues to long for his first owner, Ethan.

No matter what your feelings are about dogs (or reincarnation), don’t expect to view this film without shedding a few tears. The repeating emotional roller coaster of cute puppy, followed by life’s challenges and impending death leaves you feeling like you’ve watched four tearjerkers in one package. Young children, who will undoubtedly be attracted to this movie’s irresistible advertising, will be even more needy for a parent’s comfort. Unlike many other PG movies that are animated, the reality of the characters and events in this live-action production magnify the drama to a greater degree that may prove more frightening than expected for little ones. The depictions of unkind treatment of animals, a dog with a gunshot wound (that includes some blood effects), a child abductor, a cruel arson prank, domestic squabbles and characters struggling with addictions, all work to create frequent peril for humans and canines.

By the time the story (which is based on a novel by W. Bruce Cameron) comes to a close, viewers have learned that pets fulfil many needs in our lives, ranging from protection, to love and companionship. The film also reminds us, probably quite accurately, that the odds are stacked against a dog’s chances of getting a good and caring master. Finally, be forewarned that any kids you bring along will most likely be begging for a puppy soon—and perhaps that’s a dog’s greatest purpose: To find a boy or girl of his own.

Directed by Lasse Hallström. Starring Britt Robertson, Dennis Quaid, Josh Gad. Running time: 100 minutes. Theatrical release January 27, 2017. Updated

Get details on profanity, sex and violence in A Dog’s Purpose here.

A Dog’s Purpose Parents Guide

As this dog, in his various incarnations, goes through his several lives, he asks one question: What is the meaning of life? What answers does he find? Have you ever wondered the same thing? What do you think your existence is all about? How does identifying a purpose bring more joy and meaning to life?

Another thing the dog observes is being alone is one of the worst things that could happen to someone. Do you agree? What lonely characters does he encounter? When is he all alone? What does he do – and what could you do – to help those who feel isolated, ignored or abandoned?