Two years ago, we received A Dog’s Purpose, a family-friendly comedy about a dog named Bailey. Voiced by the perfectly cast Josh Gad, Bailey attempts to find out what his purpose is on Earth as he spends decades living, dying, and reincarnating as a different dog with different lives. Anyone who’s ever owned a dog can relate to the heartwarming themes of this story. Now, Bailey’s story continues in A Dog’s Journey.
Picking up years after the events of the first film, Bailey (Josh Gad) lives a peaceful life with his owner Ethan (Dennis Quaid) and his wife Hannah (Marg Helgenberger), having finally found them after decades of reincarnation. Bailey spends his days playing with their granddaughter CJ and dealing with the negligence of her self-centered mother Gloria (Betty Gilpin). Eventually, Gloria decides to leave Ethan’s farm to pursue her dreams, taking CJ with her.
As Bailey nears the end of his life, Ethan gives him a new purpose to find CJ in his next life and protect her no matter what. He comes back as a new dog and becomes determined to help CJ as she grows older and goes through a miserable childhood. But as new challenges appear, and Bailey continues to die and reincarnate as different dogs, he never loses sight of his new purpose, and will do whatever it takes to help CJ find her place in the world.
All dog lovers will be able to identify with the characters’ relationships with Bailey’s various lives, and all will shed a tear at the heartwarming parts. The first film managed to do this well by expertly balancing the funny dialog of Bailey with the tearjerking moments of his deaths. That’s what made the first film such a likable family film, and a great addition to the pantheon of films about the relationships between humans and dogs.
But while this sequel does have it’s fair share of family-friendly elements and heartwarming moments, it isn’t as consistent as the first film. A Dog’s Journey benefits from Josh Gad’s pitch perfect voice acting and a few moments that get the tears flowing. Unfortunately, the film’s truly heartwarming moments are undone by it’s lackluster story and rather unlikable characters, which add nothing of real value to the concepts from the first film.
The main problem with the film is its change in focus. The first film focused on Bailey and his quest to discover his true purpose in life. In this film, the focus is put more on the human characters and their lives. And the characters we’re left with are one-dimensional and don’t get much development throughout. The more scenes we spend with the humans, the more we think, “when is Bailey coming back?”
And now that Bailey is pushed to the side, his character no longer adds much of anything to the story except to push it forward. In the first film, he serves as the perfect narrator when trying to figure out his purpose with each new life he begins. Now he only talks about how much he has to find and protect CJ, repeatedly stating it over and over again. And when he’s not talking about his purpose, he’s commenting on everything he sees from a dog’s perspective. It’s cute at first, but it gets old very quickly.
Bailey was such a cute character in the first film, but with his mission to find CJ in this one, he slowly loses his cuteness. It’s easy to understand that he’s determined, but he spends a good amount of the runtime doing mean things to his owner’s in order to further his own goals. Despite his cute appearance, this makes Bailey a rather unlikable dog, even if his intentions are well meaning.
The story as a whole suffers for most of the runtime. It’s easy to enjoy the parts with Bailey spending his days with Ethan. But when he reincarnates and makes his way to CJ, the film begins to feel repetitive. It doesn’t do much to build on the concept that was introduced in the first film, other than restating things we already knew. By the end, we feel like nothing much has happened.
A Dog’s Journey undoes the charm of its predecessor with a weak story, a cast of unlikable characters, and a lack of development in both Bailey’s character and the story from the first film. This sequel feels more like an extended epilogue for the first one, as the beginning and ending are great, but everything in the middle feels rather slow and boring. It has a good amount of tearjerker moments, but they are few and far between, and are undermined by the film’s unfortunate flaws.