A Dog’s Way Home: Barking up the wrong schmaltzy tree

Review: Even dog-loving viewers may flinch at some of the schmaltz on screen in this film

A Dog's Way Home
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Director: Charles Martin Smith
Cert: PG
Genre: Family
Starring: Ashley Judd, Jonah Hauer-King, Alexandra Shipp, Wes Studi, Edward James Olmos, Bryce Dallas Howard
Running Time: 1 hr 36 mins

Author W Bruce Cameron scored a hit movie in 2017 with the adaptation of his A Dog's Purpose, a controversial, Peta-condemned film that depicted multiple canine lives in order to show how awful humans can be toward their doggy brethren.

A Dog's Way Home, an adaptation of Cameron's "mostly true" 2017 bestseller, is an easier all-ages sell. A simple variation on the Incredible Journey – think the celebrity-voiced 1993 Homeward Bound version rather than the gently narrated 1963 original – this very American pet tale pivots around Bella, a pitbull puppy who is raised by stray cats and voiced by Bryce Dallas Howard.

When Bella is adopted by kindly VA hospital worker Lucas (Hauer-King) and his war veteran mom (Judd), the pooch seems set for life. Cue the arrival of a nefarious property developer, a corrupt dog-catcher, and a ludicrous rule that states that pitbulls are outlawed in the city of Denver. Bella is sent to New Mexico to live with friends while Lucas and Mom move outside the city limits, but she soon takes matters into her own paws, and treks out into the wilderness in search of her human family. There she befriends an orphaned CG cougar and has various adventures.

Even dog-loving viewers may flinch at some of the schmaltz on screen. Upon hearing about the pitbull ban, it falls to Alexandra Shipp (Love, Simon) to deliver the line: "That's like racism for dogs!" When the crooked property developer squares up to Ashley Judd's PTSD case with a promise that "this means war", she narrows her eyes and goes full-blown Apocalypse Now: "War? What do you know about war?"


Meanwhile, Bryce Dallas Howard is required to keep repeating the same jokey variation on human commands: “Snow do your business”, which doesn’t get any funnier after the first airing.

There are some scary moments for tiny dog-fanciers, including a hunting wolf pack and Edward James Olmos’s tragic homeless man, but this is a decent, and very old-fashioned, family film, just the same.

Tara Brady

Tara Brady

Tara Brady, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a writer and film critic