A Dog’s Way Home is a movie for kids. I had to keep telling myself that so that I would go easy on this otherwise tacky and manipulative melodrama. This is not a movie intended for an audience capable of seeing through its mawkishness and pushy sentimentality. A Dog’s Way Home is meant for yet to be fully formed intellects that won’t recognize the cheap dramatic tricks on display.
A Dog’s Way Home features the voice of Bryce Dallas Howard as Bella, a dog born living underneath a fallen house. Bella grows up alongside the sweetest group of feral cats in history until animal control grabs most of them and Bella’s mother and brothers. For the next part of her life, Bella is raised by a cat that she calls Mother Cat. Seeing a dog feed on a cat is a new experience and one I am not quite sure I am comfortable with.
Bella’s life is changed forever when she meets Lucas (Jonah Hauer King), a young man who has been working to rescue the cats living in this otherwise destroyed neighborhood. When he finds Bella, Bella falls immediately in love. Lucas takes Bella home even though his landlord doesn’t allow for him to have a pet. Lucas lives with his mother, played by Ashley Judd, an Iraq war vet with the lightest touch of PTSD, she gets a little sad sometimes.
This is the status quo for some time until Lucas crosses the developer trying to raze the building where the cats have been living. The developer sics animal control on Bella and because she is part pitbull, and pitbulls are apparently outlawed in Denver, where the film is set, Bella is taken away. Lucas decides to take Bella out of town until he and his mother find a new apartment outside of Denver.
Unfortunately, Bella doesn’t understand that she’s only temporarily going to be away from her owner and when she gets the chance, Bella flees the home in New Mexico and goes on a run through the woods and towns and some 400 miles to get herself back to Denver and back to her beloved owner. Along the way, Bella makes pals with a sweet hearted gay couple and a cougar that she calls Big Kitten.
You know how I said this is a kids movie? Well, there is at least one part that probably doesn’t belong in a movie for kids. In a subplot that left me utterly bewildered, Bella befriends a homeless man on her journey, played by Edward James Olmos, literally slumming for this role. The homeless man, like all of the supporting characters in this film, is a veteran dealing with PTSD. He keeps Bella tied to him until he is close to death when he decides to chain Bella to himself and then he dies.
Yes, this kiddie flick about a heartwarming dog’s journey home, features our hero dog chained to the corpse of a homeless veteran. It’s a scene as bewildering as it is bleak. I get that Bella needs life threatening crises for dramatic purposes but this one goes way too far, and we’re talking about a movie where a dog befriends a cougar and fights wolves. Bella nearly dies until two kids find her and the body because the trauma needed more witnesses I guess.
A Dog’s Way Home will, despite how tacky and cheap it is, still appeal to animal lovers. Much like the classic cheap child in danger plot, audiences can’t get enough of cute animals in danger plots. Add in a cutesy voiceover, as if the dog has a narrator trapped in its skull and audiences go crazy for it. Our love for animals runs so deep that we often give a pass to even the most trashy of cute animal movies and no doubt many audiences will give a pass to A Dog’s Way Home. I won’t but that’s just me.