Movie review: 'Dog's Way Home' a heartwarming tale for kids and animal lovers

  • Alone in the wilderness, Bella encounters a variety of challenges in "A Dog's Way Home."

    Alone in the wilderness, Bella encounters a variety of challenges in "A Dog's Way Home." Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

Updated 1/11/2019 8:08 AM

"A Dog's Way Home" - ★ ★

"A Dog's Way Home" possesses all the funny, cute and heartwarming moments you'd expect in a conventional canine movie.

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It's a gratifying adventure for kids and ardent dog lovers, despite some of the cheapest, cheesiest CGI animation ever seen in a major studio release.

The canine star Bella (lovingly voiced by Bryce Dallas Howard) narrates this tale. It begins as dogcatchers snatch baby Bella's mother from their home under an abandoned house in Denver, Colorado.

A sympathetic mother cat nurses Bella, creating a canine-feline bond that not only factors into the plot, but serves as a subtle, effective metaphor for race relations.

A caring human named Lucas (Jonah Hauer-King), a med student and volunteer at a VA hospital, finds Bella and takes her home, much to the delight of his girlfriend Olivia (Alexandra Shipp).

But local laws don't allow suspected pit bull breeds like Bella to roam the streets. When she gets captured and nearly euthanized, Lucas reluctantly sends his dog to temporarily live with a family 400 miles away.


Bella, of course, wants to be with Lucas. So she escapes and sets out on paw to make an incredible journey home.

Just like Lassie.

Poor Bella, however, confronts more life-threatening situations than any other movie canine in history.

A wolf pack stalks her! She crosses a thin, icy tree trunk over a bottomless chasm! She gets hit by a speeding car! She becomes chained to a homeless man (Edward James Olmos) in the freezing wilderness!

Fortunately, Bella befriends an orphaned baby cougar. She calls him Little Kitten, until he quickly grows into Big Kitten.

Bella befriends a couple of veterans in "A Dog's Way Home."
Bella befriends a couple of veterans in "A Dog's Way Home." - Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

They become best buds, even though the movie's embarrassingly poor CGI animation makes Big Kitten look phony, and that undermines the film's dramatic believability. Kids likely won't care.


"A Dog's Way Home" comes from the novel by W. Bruce Cameron, whose book "A Dog's Purpose" became a surprisingly moving and spiritual 2017 drama directed by Lasse Hallstrom.

For this movie, the filmmakers (including director Charles Martin Smith) found their canine star, Shelby, at a Tennessee animal control center after looking at thousands of online dog photos.

They later found Amber, Shelby's stand-in, at a South Carolina shelter.

Smith directed "A Dolphin Tale" and its sequel (both starring Ashley Judd, who appears as Lucas' mother in "A Dog's Way Home"), so he knows his way around animal stories.

Nonetheless, "A Dog's Way Home" caters to kids instead of challenging them, especially near the end, when every dangling plot line gets neatly tied up by a Native American Denver dogcatcher boss (Wes Studi), who could have been the hero to solve Bella's legal problems.

Instead, VA hospital characters do that by somehow equating the protection of Bella with pure, star-spangled patriotism.

But is that a dog's purpose?

• • •

Starring: Bryce Dallas Howard, Ashley Judd, Jonah Hauer-King, Wes Studi, Edward James Olmos, Alexandra Shipp

Directed by: Charles Martin Smith

Other: A Columbia Pictures release. Rated PG. 86 minutes

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