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No one could have predicted A Dog's Purpose being the box office hit that it was last year. However, once that cat was out of the bag, it wasn't hard to foresee a follow-up on the horizon. A Dog's Way Home isn't that follow-up everyone's been expecting, but rather the next best thing: a separate story from the canon of the author that started it all, W. Bruce Cameron. While it's easily better than the film it owes its existence to, this dog bone doesn't fall too far from the tree.
In A Dog's Way Home, we follow Bella (Bryce Dallas Howard), a stray puppy raised by a mother cat and adopted by Lucas (Jonah Hauer-King) and his war veteran mother (Ashley Judd.) Told through her eyes, the story shows Bella's journey back to her family, after being temporarily separated from them for her protection. Along the way, the intrepid dog meets animals and humans she's never seen before, as she follows the invisible tug home.
The good news when it comes to director Charles Martin Smith's A Dog's Way Home is that, thankfully, its story doesn't grind on a person's nerves as much as A Dog's Purpose. The pseudo-spiritual angle focuses more on the pull between a pet and their humans, which is not only identifiable, it's heartwarming. Not to mention, with one dog being the focus of the film's narrative, you're not going to have to watch multiple dogs die in order to teach the audience a lesson.
While the story at the center of A Dog's Way Home isn't as cloying as its spiritual predecessor, it's still not that good. The basic premise is pretty flimsy, with no excitement to carry it as a visually stunning experience. Hurting the film further is the fact that there are several different stories at play in A Dog's Way Home. Chiefly among them are the two main storylines with very different sub-stories within them.
If either of these story combinations were given their due, they could have worked adequately. Thrown together in the fashion that writers W. Bruce Cameron and Cathryn Michon patch them together though, neither story gets the attention it needs to truly work. As such, A Dog's Way Home can't decide if it wants to be about a dog separated from her owner, with a sub focus on supporting wounded veterans; or a dog separated from the two families she forms with members of the feline species, with a sub focus on animal rescue efforts.
As for the required narration to tell Bella's story, that's another achilles heel that weakens A Dog's Way Home. Howard gives her performance everything she's got, but even her skills can't save dialogue that's written as if it's been created by a first grader. There's only so many times an adult can hear, "I wanted to do go home," spoken allowed before they spontaneously turn into a proofreader.
A Dog's Way Home has its heart in the right place for the most part, but its mind doesn't know which car to chase to completion. As a result, the story is formless with no real drive to its telling, making for a film that's not very interesting to watch. In fact, it's ruff to sit and stay through A Dog's Way Home, and anyone who can do so without walking out deserves a treat. Otherwise, the audiences considering this film as a weekend entertainment may want to heed this piece of advice: you don't have to find your way home if you stay home in the first place.