‘A DOG’S Journey’ is the sequel to ‘A Dog’s Purpose’, directed by Lasse Halstrom in 2017 based on the 2010 novel by Bruce Cameron. It was produced with a budget of only $22 million but earned $204 million worldwide, which proved there’s a big market for this kind of sweet and poignant canine story, so it’s not surprising that they now come up with a Part 2.
The first movie is about a golden retriever named Bailey born in 1961, voiced by Josh Gad as narrator, who is wondering what life’s true purpose is. He becomes the pet of a boy, Ethan. They bond sweetly and Bailey realizes that taking care of Ethan is his sole purpose in life. He becomes instrumental for Ethan to meet his girlfriend, Hannah.
Bailey dies but gets reincarnated several times, fostering the Buddhist belief in reincarnation. And from dog heaven, he always manages to return to Ethan who realizes that it’s his old “boss dog” who comes back to him. The story obviously managed to touch the hearts of many viewers, not only of dog lovers as it’s designed to be a tearjerker.
Part 2 maintains the same manipulative style of contrived plotting of the first movie to hook the viewer’s attention from the start. But this one has a more schmaltzy story about family that will no doubt assault your tear ducts. Ethan (Dennis Quaid) and Hannah (Marg Helgenberger) are now the grandparents of a cute baby girl named CJ, the daughter of their son who died an untimely death before CJ is born, leaving his wife, Gloria (Betty Gilpin of the comedy series “GLOW” about women wrestlers), bitter and resentful about being a young widow.
Gloria and CJ live with Ethan and Hannah in their farm in Michigan. But Gloria has a drinking problem and wants to be a lounge singer, so she decides to leave with CJ, taking her away from her grandparents. Ethan then asks his dying dog to look after CJ. Bailey is later incarnated as a big dog but it’s only when he was born as a girl, a beagle named Molly, that she gets to return and be the guardian of CJ (played by the lovable child star Abby Ryder Fortson, the daughter of “Antman” and in “Forever My Girl”.)
CJ is a lonely girl because her mother is so irresponsible. The mother is caricaturized here as a one-dimensional repulsive character, just like the off-putting boyfriends of CJ. But you don’t really watch films like this, where the world is divided into absolute black and white, expecting subtlety and nuances in characterization.
When CJ becomes a teenager (played by Kathryn Prescott), she decides to leave her mother and goes to New York to aspire to be a singer-songwriter. Molly is smart and learns in a lab how to smell people afflicted with cancer. CJ has a childhood friend, a Chinese guy named Trent (Henry Lau), who obviously loves her. But CJ has to have some terrible boyfriends first, including someone who caused her to figure in a car crash that kills her dog, who then gets resurrected later as a Yorkshire terrier named Max.
It’s this dog who later makes CJ realize that Trent has early stage cancer, so he urges him to see a doctor and he has to undergo chemotherapy. He eventually gets fully healed and encourages CJ to overcome her severe stage fright and pursue her dream of being a singer. Later on, Trent also prompts her to forgive and be reunited with her errant mother and also her long lost grandparents.
If you don’t like melodrama, don’t watch this movie as it can be cloying and sappy. But if you enjoy watching this kind of harmless family drama where certain dogs and human seemed destined for each other, it’s going to be a pleasant alternative to the fantasy that is the “Avengers: Endgame” and the over-the-top violence in “John Wick 3”. By the end of “A Dog’s Journey”, our 10-year old granddaughter is sobbing helplessly and has to be hugged and comforted by her papa.