They say that dogs are man’s best friend, but what if that best friend who with you from birth stayed longer than a lifetime?
Two years after A Dog’s Purpose (2017), we follow again the paw prints of Bailey (voiced by Josh Gad), whose purpose in life is not yet over. In this sequel, Ethan and his wife, Hannah , live on the farm with their granddaughter C.J. (Kathryn Prescott as adult) and her young and inexperienced mother Gloria. Her fear and mistrust cause a sudden departure from the farm, taking C.J. away from her grandparents and Bailey. Soon after, before Bailey leaves his life as a St. Bernard-Australian Shepherd mix, Ethan entrusts him with a new purpose for his next reincarnation: to protect his C.J. and make her happy. This sequel based on the 2012 novel by W. Bruce Cameron is full of adventures, friendship and love but also with unexpected turn of events that will inevitably touch anyone’s hearts.
There is no doubt that dog film franchise tends to project an idealized pet-human relationship which is not very faithful to reality, if not impossible. Just have a look at other movies in this vein like Marley & Me or Hachi: A Dog’s Tale; A Dog’s Journey –along with its predecessor A Dog’s Purpose– follows the same path. Bailey is highly anthropomorphized particularly by being presented as an individual unique in his own kind, not only for his capacity to reincarnate himself, but also for his rational thinking, intelligence and emotional responses. What is curious about this film, and what differentiates it from many others, is that it is not only an interpretation of the pet owner or the audience, but the film confirms Bailey’s human-like social cognition. The internal voice-over narration through Bailey’s internal thoughts, and the point of view shots so colorful that are identical to the human vision –but far away from the actual narrow color spectrum of dogs’ view–, are two main cinematographic techniques with which the film humanizes a beagle named Molly, an English Mastiff named Big Dog, and finally, a Yorkshire Terrier named Max; the three different lives Bailey lives in this sequel. Equally important is the film’s highly subjectivity, not only due to the point of view shots or the narration, but through the presentation of more general aspects: the feelings evoked are either of joy or sadness, and characters are either ‘good’ or ‘bad’ (e.g. bad: C.J.’s boyfriend, Trent’s girlfriend), with the exception of Gloria’s convenient redeem in the story. Everything seems to be perceived from the mindset of a dog.
Pet’s behaviour is either understood through anthropomorphistic ideas or through their ‘instinct’ nature. Issues are raised when dealing with the “pet’s dual status as both ‘person’ and possession”. It might be possible that the pet-owner in this case feels guilt and uncertainty due to this encounter of the animal’s freedom and our ‘possessive’ position over it. Nevertheless, A Dog’s Journey does not seem to show any dilemma with the idea of ownership. In fact, it shows a balanced situation of reciprocal possession where the dog is obviously an ‘object’ of the pet owner, but Bailey also refers to C.J. as “my girl” and Ethan as “my boy”, clearly stating an objectified condition of humans in Bailey’s view. This movie –and the ones that follow this line–, therefore, projects a desired perfect human-pet relationship that does not really exist, but that we ironically like to watch to avoid reality for a while and put our mind at rest.
After a very cliche scene in which C.J. discovers –thanks to Max, after all– that she has always loved Trent (Henry Lau), the aural bridge of Bailey’s voice-over narration ,“I did what Ethan asked”, leads us to what is, probably, the most emotionally charged sequence in the film. The loyalty, love, companionship and protective instinct towards its family is emphasized through the montage editing of the rest of Max’s life. Long before the last scene, the film already has the audience bathed in tears: the piece of music in the background that helps to narrate the passing of time drives our emotions towards a sentimental impact. The audience itself goes through a journey of emotions. At first, happiness overflows as we watch C.J. creating her own pack, reconciled with her mother, and renewing the relationship with her grandparents. And yet, this does not last long when Mancuso decides to hit us with a twist: Ethan’s death. Through a combination of a slow-paced panning and tilt shot, motivated by the eye-line match of the characters, we are revealed not only Ethan’s death but also Bailey’s loyalty, who is by his side until his last breath. The warm key light illuminates everyone’s faces except Ethan’s, which is, without a doubt, a manipulative effect to emphasize the dramatism of him passing away. Afterwards, another combination of a slow-paced panning and tilt shot shows Max next to Ethan’s grave. It is not Ethan’s death that stimulates an unbearable sadness in the audience, but the intimate bond between the pet and the owner. It attributes the feeling of grief and sorrow to Bailey that we recognize, once again, its individuality and human-like emotions.
Bailey’s passing away is what really hits home in this film. C.J. and Trent bid farewell to Max by petting him and calling him the common but not old-fashioned phrase “good dog”. After that, an aural bridge with C.J.’s voice singing “I’ll be here with you” introduces Bailey running through the vast endless field in his way to Heaven. The sung verse expresses the reciprocal exchange of affection: Max was always there for C.J, and now it is C.J.’s turn to be with Max. This scene has a moral lesson of great importance: not to abandon our pets in their last moments of life, as it is part of being a pet owner to lose our beloved friend, we should be there for them. Everything together then achieves to take us to a higher emotional level. The reason why it affects us to that extent is linked to the idealized and desirable perfect pet-owner relationship and, of course, to the anthropomorphized process that Bailey has been subjected to all along the film.
A follow shot in slow motion captures the first moments of Bailey’s path towards Heaven, and presents the dog morphing backward through its previous lifetimes –although we might miss all the other breed dogs Bailey was throughout A Dog’s Purpose. As if this were not enough, to rub salt in the wound, Bailey crosses the Rainbow Bridge and is reunited in Heaven with Ethan. For those who do not know, the Rainbow Bridge is known as being “a mythical overpass said to connect heaven and Earth — and, more to the point, a spot where grieving pet owners reunite for good with their departed furry friends”. Instead of a harsh cold light full of blues and greys that would have invoked the sadness for Bailey’s death, this closed ending makes use of a full bright and warm color palette; it is not a tragic ending but a pleasing one because he is reunited with Ethan for eternity. Finally, after the point of view shot of Bailey running towards Ethan, the two characters are framed together through an aerial shot that distances the camera until an extreme long shot allowing the audience to see the magnitude of Bailey’s heaven. Then, the shot fades in a golden colour coming from the sunset. While all this happens, the already well-known non-diegetic song of the movie is played in the background. This ending is nothing but a total explosion of overwhelming feelings and emotions in the heart of the audience.
Another technique used by Mancuso is the recreation of scenes from the first installment (see Figure 2). At the very beginning of the sequel, a scene from the first movie is recreated: both scenes take place in the farm, but they differ in their tonalities. While the first movie shows cleaner colors conveying hope, the second one has that warm layer that transmits the nostalgic feeling of a memory. The symmetry of both shots where Ethan and Bailey stare at each other eyes confirms the unique bond that connects them; they are meant to be together. In fact, to emphasize this attachment, Ethan recites the exact same words that Bailey thought a few seconds earlier: “that isn’t getting any easier”.
A Dog’s Journey is presented in a simple manner: the objective is to focus the audience on the story rather than on the special effects. However, simplicity does not mean that it does not contribute to the narrative of the story. The film intends to be emotionally manipulative, and it does its job largely due to the cinematic techniques employed. The persistent use of point of view shots and the incessant voice-over narration helps to align the viewers with the dog, as well as humanizing it. The director also makes use of recurrent scenes and phrases, symmetry, color spectrum, and light, which is predominantly warm and high-key throughout most of the film. These techniques convey hope, happiness, and a dreamlike owner-pet relationship which is nothing more than a projection of fantasies; human-animal relationships are much more complex than what dog films in this vein try to make people believe. At the same time, escaping from this reality is one of the reasons why we like these movies so much… and the lovely cute dogs, of course!
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