Main cast: Jonah Hauer-King (Lucas), Ashley Judd (Terri), Edward James Olmos (Axel), Alexandra Shipp (Olivia), Bryce Dallas Howard (Bella), Wes Studi (Captain Mica), Barry Watson (Gavin), and Tammy Gillis (Officer Leon)
Director: Charles Martin Smith
Aw, A Dog’s Way Home is made for a dog person like me, so it’s a given that it is going to be at worse a three-oogie film for me unless something really stupid or terrible happens. When nothing of that sort occurs, so three oogies. There, you can stop reading now.
What, the plot? There’s a cute dog – who cares about the story? Look at it! Oh, alright, this one is in a way a spiritual successor to all those “dog travels great distances and goes great lengths to return to the master” movies, and it plays out accordingly. There isn’t going to be any surprises here. If you have seen Homeward Bound (and I hope you’ve seen only the first movie and none of the ghastly sequels) or the like, you will feel like you’ve already seen this one.
The dog that will soon be called Bella was an orphan, raised by a cat alongside her kittens in a construction site, until she finally is found by Lucas and his girlfriend Olivia. The two boring humans live with Lucas’s mother Terri, and it looks like Bella has finally found a home… until mean anti-pit bull laws and circumstances tear her apart from Lucas, mostly due to that silly fellow getting into a fight with the mean developer (is there any other kind in these movies?) and that meanie had Bella declared a pit bull.
This is also a pit bull advocacy movie, by the way. Don’t kill all put bulls indiscriminately – that’s racism. I don’t really buy into that, as I feel that, as much as I love dogs, dogs don’t have as much agency as humans do, and therefore, dogs do have a hard time playing by human rules. Therefore, it is not realistic to impose human motivations as well as human moral compasses to dogs; pit bulls can be dangerous even to their human family members. Being wary of pit bulls isn’t racism, it’s common sense. At the same time, I never subscribe to the school of thought that dogs should be put to sleep just because we believe that they may harm a human being in the future.
Therefore, when it comes to the take home message of this movie, I’m on the fence. I can see both sides of the argument, but I also feel that this movie is on the wishy-washy side when it comes to delivering the take home message. This is made worse by the movie not even having Bella resemble a more conventional pit bull. The script wants me to call for an end of the blanket ban on pit bulls, but it also doesn’t have the guts to put a more recognizable pit bull type as the main doggy character.
Oh, and just like with Homeward Bound and its kind, I wish this movie hadn’t given Bella a human voice. It undermines the effectiveness of the more poignant moments, as once again, this is another sentimental movie that tries very hard to equate animals to humans, and that all animals are the same members of one big family. Oh, come on.
As for the rest of the movie, well… the humans are boring and the animals are cute. What else is there to say? It’s a pleasant, passably entertaining movie for kids as well as animal people, and that’s about all I can say about it.