A Dog’s Way Home: Please Bring A Kleenex

Bella (Shelby) in Columbia Pictures' A Dog's Way Home.

While the dog doesn’t die in A Dog’s Way Home, you’ll want to bring along some Kleenex for all of the emotional moments in this film.

If you’re a dog owner, you already know about the unconditional bond of love with your four-legged friend.  They come running to the door as soon as you come home because you mean so much to them.  We care about them so much that it hurts when we have to put them down in order to end their pain.

We meet Bella (voice of Bryce Dallas Howard) as a tiny puppy when her mother and siblings get ripped away from her.  Chances are they weren’t meaning to have strong parallels to what’s happening along the border with ICE but you can’t help but think about it.  It’s not long thereafter when med student/VA hospital volunteer Lucas (Jonah Hauer-King) and girlfriend Olivia (Alexandra Shipp) checks in on some kittens.  Much to his surprise, Bella comes running to him.  When you know, you know–so Lucas becomes Bella’s human.  Lucas takes her home to live with him and his army veteran mother, Terri (Ashley Judd).

Some dogs have this affinity for wanting to chase after any animal that comes their way.  In Bella’s case, it’s a squirrel.  Unfortunately, Animal Control has very different rules in place than Bella’s SQUIRREL! rule.  A quick impounding later leads Lucas to train Bella to “go home” on command.  Bella sees everything as a game, whether it’s Stop it, Don’t chew shoes, A tiny piece of cheese, or Snow-do your business, etc.

As Animal Control nails down the hammer, it means finding a place outside of Denver, Col. so that Bella can have freedom.  While a place is found in Golden, Bella is meanwhile taken to Farmington, N.M. but she decides to play “go home” by the time Lucas and Olivia arrive.  It might take two and a half years but Bella somehow makes it back.

There are several scenes in the trailer that don’t quite have the same context that we see in the film.  Take the mountain lion, for example.  Who would have ever thought that a dog and mountain lion, known as Big Kitten, could have an unbreakable bond.  Even though such a bond seems unlikely, I couldn’t help but feel for Bella when she had to say goodbye to her friend.  Then there’s the homeless veteran, Axel (Edward James Olmos).  Bella has a way of seeing a sadness in him as she did with Terri and the other veterans at the VA hospital.  Unfortunately, he doesn’t treat her in the way that one should treat any animal.  I’m issuing a content warning here for animal abuse.

While Bryce Dallas Howard provides Bella’s voice, Bella is portrayed by Shelby.  Shelby is absolutely adorable and if I could reach through the screen to give her belly rubs, I would.  Director Charles Martin Smith co-starred with Bryce Dallas Howard’s father, Ron Howard, in American Graffiti.  Another Charles Martin Smith connection to multiple films is Ashley Judd.  A member of Big Blue Nation, Judd portrayed Lorraine Nelson in both Dolphin Tale films.

Back to the Kleenex for a minute.  We know from watching the trailer that Bella does find her way back home.  What we don’t know is just how long it takes or what else will happen along the way.  By the end of the film, I can definitely report that my eyes were not dry.  This film may be quite a bit different than A Dog’s Purpose but A Dog’s Way Home still manages to find a way to tug after our hearts.

DIRECTOR:  Charles Martin Smith
SCREENWRITERS:  W. Bruce Cameron & Cathryn Michon
CAST:  Ashley Judd, Jonah Hauer-King, Edward James Olmos, Alexandra Shipp, Chris Bauer, Barry Watson, Motell Foster, with Wes Studi and Bryce Dallas Howard

Columbia Pictures opens A Dog’s Way Home in theaters on January 11, 2019. Grade: 4/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.