A Dog’s Purpose is a sucker punch for people who love their pets, myself included. This adaptation of W. Bruce Campbell’s best-selling book isn’t terribly original or profound but it is sweet—some would say overly so, but I’m not complaining because I enjoyed it.

Why such a simple, straightforward film required five (credited) screenwriters I can’t imagine, but director Lasse Hallström, who made the moving Hachi: A Dog’s Tale (2010), knows his way around this kind of material. The movie is narrated by Josh Gad as a dog who lives many lives with a variety of owners. Every time he dies he is reincarnated as a different breed in a completely new situation. That’s how our hero becomes a heroine at one point.

The humans in these vignettes are likable, none more so than the boy who raises Bailey from puppyhood. Bryce Gheisar plays the endearing 8-year old and KJ Apa takes over the role as a teenager. Others in the cast include Dennis Quaid, Peggy Lipton, Juliet Rylance, Luke Kirby, and John Ortiz.

A Dog’s Purpose is rated PG because it’s the kind of movie grownups and kids can enjoy together. There is some suspense and gunfire during the segment when the canine becomes a member of the Chicago police force, but for the most part the story is benign.

Sentimental? Absolutely. Manipulative? Yes. Memorable? Not if you compare it to great movies dating back to Lassie Come Home. But I was entertained, and that’s all I could ask for in a film of this kind.


Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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May 2024