A Dog’s Purpose lacks purpose and plotline

Julianne Sun and Stephanie Chen

What is the purpose of A Dog’s Purpose? To entertain? To make you laugh? To make you cry?

The movie opens with a scene many are familiar with: utterly cute and helpless puppies. A Dog’s Purpose is designed to make you fall in love. However, it quickly becomes obvious after the first two or three scenes that the movie is going nowhere.
The plotline is fairly simple: dog is born, dog learns (or doesn’t learn) meaning of life, dog dies. Reincarnation? Repeat. This may seem novel at first, but it is clear from the get go that A Dog’s Purpose doesn’t quite understand how to make it engaging. The focus jumps from one dog to the next, resulting in a string of choppy scenes.
In a vain attempt to squeeze as much as possible into two short hours, A Dog’s Purpose speeds through each dog’s life, only slowing down to highlight the milestones in either the dog or the owner’s life. It crams humor, devotion, and drama into one big jumble, stitching together a motley of various pieces to create a tangled quilt with but a few heartfelt bits here and there. The film purposefully chooses scenes intended to tug at the audience’s heartstrings but leaves no real substance behind. As written by Neil Genzlinger of the New York Times, it’s a “clumsily manipulative trainwreck.” Genzlinger also wrote up a checklist that describes A Dog’s Purpose pretty well: “Save people from a burning house? Check. Plunge into raging waters to keep a child from drowning? Check. Nudge a lonely woman into a romantic relationship? Check. Only ‘Timmy has fallen into a well’ is missing.”
The film features five different dogs in five different lives. ‘Features’ is a bit of an overstatement for the first dog, however, as it only appears on screen for about five minutes before being reincarnated.
This perhaps is a failed attempt to follow the plotline of A Dog’s Purpose by W. Bruce Cameron, the novel the movie was based off of. In the book, Toby’s (the first dog) life is followed more closely, and he remembers and applies the life lessons from his first life to other lives. In the film, not only is Toby unnamed, but his life is cut short quickly, making the sole purpose of his appearance to make it clear to the audience that the theme of the movie is finding the meaning of life. This is not the only deviation the film makes from the book. While the book takes the time to go through the lives of all four dogs, the movie zips through the first dog and divides Ellie(the third dog) into two separate dogs, Ellie and Tino by giving Ellie a dramatic death by gunshot. As for Bailey and Buddy, the spotlight shines on Ethan and how Bailey/Buddy’s life revolves around his rather than the building and strengthening of the bond between them. The movie skips the backstory behind many of the memories Bailey and Ethan shares(e.g. doodle dog, the ‘flip’), but instead focuses on building the tension between Ethan and his father and later on Ethan and Todd.
To complete the story, A Dog’s Purpose takes the all too common storyline of a broken family and a broken future that is only pieced back together with the entrance/return of a loved one-in this case Bailey/Buddy- and fulfills the dog’s wish to find his life’s purpose.
Five dogs, five lives, and many clichés may be heartwarming at times, but in the end, A Dog’s Purpose has no true purpose.

1.5/4 Stars