All kids need to know about “A Dog’s Way Home” is that it’s about cute puppies and kitties and a digital cougar.
I mean, there’s a reason “America’s Funniest Home Videos” has stayed on the air for decades and that cute critter videos — especially cats and dogs — dominate the Internet.
It’s got a dog experiencing her first snowfall — “Ice cream is FALLING from the sky!”
And it’s about a dog getting separated from her person and faithfully making her way from New Mexico back to Greater Denver, over a period of years, because “Go home” is the only command a dog absolutely needs to learn.
Parents need to know the story was written by the author of “A Dog’s Purpose” and this May’s “A Dog’s Journey.” And that they’re in the hands of director Charles Martin Smith of “A Dolphin’s Tale.” He would never direct anything that would harm kids.
So even though there’s not a lot of wit or joy to this picture, at least it leans on sentiment and mostly gets away with it. The power of “puppy love,” dogs’ loyalty and therapeutic value to people who are depressed (especially traumatized veterans) have to suffice.
And there is a healthy helping of “peril” as they say in the movie ratings trade. Bella, the mutt (labeled a pit bull by the City of Denver) and voice over narrated by Bryce Dallas Howard, is menaced by a corrupt dog catcher, evil developer, a pack of coyotes and many a roaming dog’s doom — traffic.
As in real life, death crosses Bella’s path.
These scenes have some serious fright to them, but they’re teachable moments and as Walt Disney knew, children can withstand a little scare, here and there, as they develop empathy.
Bella meets good people — a caring gay couple, a depressed homeless vet played by Edward James Olmos, strangers who stop their car on a freeway rather than hit a dog — and bad on her way back to VA employee Lucas (Jonah Hauer-King) and his veteran mom (Ashley Judd).
Bella is stereotyped — she only has to “look like a pit bull” to be banned in Denver (“That’s like racism for dogs!” complains Olivia (Alexandra Shipp), another VA employee who is sweet on Lucas.
“Dog’s Way Home” is aimed at the very young, so don’t expect anything challenging. It moves along but felt limp and kind of lifeless, for all the sentimentality Smith & Co. serve up.
Will Bella make it? Well, what’s the title tell you?
MPAA Rating: PG for thematic elements, some peril and language
Cast: Ashley Judd, Bryce Dallas Howard, Edward James Olmos, Wes Studi
Credits: Directed by Charles Martin Smith, script by W. Bruce Cameron and Cathryn Michon, based on Cameron’s novel. A Sony/Columbia release
Running time: 1:36