Dog's Journey, A (Blu-ray Review)

  • Reviewed by: Dennis Seuling
  • Review Date: Aug 29, 2019
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Dog's Journey, A (Blu-ray Review)

Director

Gail Mancuso

Release Date(s)

2019 (August 20, 2019)

Studio(s)

Amblin Entertainment/Universal Pictures (Universal Pictures Home Entertainment)
  • Film/Program Grade: B
  • Video Grade: A
  • Audio Grade: B+
  • Extras Grade: A

A Dog's Journey (Blu-ray Disc)

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Review

A Dog’s Journey, a sequel to 2017’s A Dog’s Purpose, picks up several years after the first film and continues the idea that the same dog spirit can be reincarnated again and again in different dogs during its original owner’s lifetime, always trying to make its way back home. The concept is one that dog lovers will be more likely to appreciate than someone without sentimental attachment to man’s best friend.

Bailey is a St. Bernard-Australian shepherd mix that belongs to Michigan farm couple Ethan (Dennis Quaid) and Hannah (Marg Helgenberger). Their son has died and his widow, Gloria (Betty Gilpin), and baby daughter CJ go to live on the farm. In a downward spiral after the tragic death of her husband, Gloria makes the occasional attempt to further her unsuccessful aspirations to be a singer, spends most of her time gossiping on the phone, and neglects her child. She also dislikes dogs. Meanwhile, as CJ develops from an infant to a child (Abby Ryder Fortson), she forms a powerful bond with Bailey. Gloria, a selfish vain woman jealous of the growing affection between CJ and her grandparents, impulsively leaves the family farm with CJ and prevents them from ever seeing her again. The story of CJ runs through all of A Dog’s Journey with the spirit of Bailey coming into her life in assorted canine incarnations.

Growing up sad and lonely and without proper adult supervision, the young adult CJ (now played by Kathryn Prescott) makes some bad choices in high school and disappears into New York City, but Bailey finds her again, first as a beagle named Molly, then a mastiff named Big Dog and, finally, a Yorkshire terrier named Max, who has the greatest influence on CJ’s life and helps her to believe in the magic of the animal’s spirit. The only human being CJ bonds with as she grows up is Trent (Ian Chen and later Henry Lau), her best friend since childhood, a steadying influence and source of support in her dream of becoming a singer/songwriter.

Despite its PG rating, the movie isn’t all sunshine and cheer. It touches on several dark areas, including family trauma, alcoholism, serious illness, bullying, death, and negligent parenting. Dogs fill the void in hearts that humans might leave.

The voices of all the dogs are provided by Josh Gad. Wisely, the dogs don’t actually speak, but we hear their thoughts, often very amusing as they try to understand the strange ways of two-legged creatures. The dogs think kissing is licking face, a convenience store is a house of endless treats, dropped food is rightfully theirs, and walks are the best things ever.

A Dog’s Journey is based on the 2012 novel of the same name by W. Bruce Cameron. Though the movie is a sequel, it stands on its own. Clearly manipulative and sentimental, it makes its canine stars irresistible. The overall tone is positive and some viewers might find themselves tearing up in parts.

The Blu-ray, featuring 1080p High Definition resolution, is presented in the widescreen aspect ratio of 2.39:1. Picture is sharp, with detail pronounced in the animals’ fur, the character lines in Dennis Quaid’s craggy face, the wood grain in the farmhouse porch, and the patterns in clothing. However, Marg Helgenberger’s age make-up suffers in close-up, since it appears slathered on. There are no imperfections in the print such as scratches or dirt specks. The color palette tends toward brighter hues. The most dramatic use of color occurs in the transitions, when the dogs pass away. They run through a golden wheat field under a blue sky, making their deaths feel bittersweet rather than tragic. Outdoor scenes look particularly rich. A scene at the end of the film, in which CJ and Trent stand in a grove of trees near a stream, is beautiful, with the brilliant green of leaves and plants surrounding the couple.

Audio is English 7.1 Dolby TrueHD. Dialogue is clear and distinct. Josh Gad’s voiceovers are interspersed with the human dialogue precisely, and nicely mirror the mood of the scene. Ambient street noise in an outdoor cafe scene late in the film is mixed effectively with dialogue and contrasts with the quieter scenes on the farm. Mark Isham’s score is used throughout to enhance emotional impact, its gentle piano renderings just right in capturing a light, nostalgic feeling. The barking of the dogs moves from channel to channel, mirroring the dogs’ on-screen movement. Dogs’ toenails can be heard clicking on wooden floors, and the slurping of their tongues licking faces contributes humor to several scenes. Optional Spanish and French audio tracks are available, as are subtitles in English, Spanish, and French.

Bonus features on the 2-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack include an audio commentary, deleted and extended scenes, a gag reel, and 5 behind-the-scenes featurettes. A Digital code is included on a paper insert found within the packaging.

Audio Commentary – Director Gail Mancuso discusses the making of the film. She wanted to bookend the movie by showing a beautiful place – the golden fields. Farm scenes were shot in Canada. Toddler CJ (Emma Volk) was cast in Canada. Many tricks continue through different dogs to show that the spirit is always Bailey’s. Mancuso wanted the dogs’ deaths to be beautiful and uplifting, so the transitions are marked by a very bright screen blending into gauzy images of the dogs running in a golden field. Mancuso notes that her background is directing series television (Modern Family, Friends, Roseanne). The book on which the film is based goes into much darker areas, but the producers wanted to keep the film’s PG rating. A scene in which Molly is running down a flight of stairs required a runner to give the dog some traction. The car crash was filmed in a single take thanks to carefully placed cameras. Big Dog was originally going to be hit by a truck, but this was changed to the dog walking off into the woods to die a natural death. The farmhouse interior was re-dressed on the same stage to become the New York apartment. The mother/daughter reconciliation scene was not in the original script, but it was important to Mancuso to show that Gloria attempted to make up for being neglectful. Gloria admits, “I was not a great mother.” At the end of the film, both Ethan and Hannah have aged. Aging make-up took about three hours to apply. A Dog’s Journey is Mancuso’s first feature film directorial credit. She acknowledges the input of cinematographer Rogier Stoffers and editor Robert Komatsu (“the best editor ever”), who gave her an editor’s cut that was flawless.

A Dog’s Sequel – Cast members and key crew personnel comment on the film. Henry Lau (Trent) refers to it as a film “that makes you feel warm inside.” Quaid (Ethan) notes that “it’s a lot easier to come back and play the same character.” Prescott (CJ) observes, “CJ is looking for unconditional love she should have gotten from her parents.” Producer Gavin Polone says, “Gail (Mancuso) is the first director I wanted,” and Mancuso remarks, “The dogs help CJ when times are troubled.”

Working With Dogs – Actors Dennis Quaid, Marg Helgenberger, Betty Gilpin, Kathryn Prescott, Abby Ryder Fortson, and Henry Lau comment on working with dogs. Animal Coordinator Bonnie Judd notes that “rewarding them with love and affection rather than just treats” is an effective way of training the canines to perform required tasks on the set. It’s about “building a relationship of trust.” Over 500 dogs were “auditioned.” Judd notes that any healthy animal with a great temperament can be a movie dog.”

Everyone’s Best Friend – Josh Gad talks about his own dog, Didi, Dennis Quaid talks about his dog, Peaches, and Marg Helgenberger and Betty Gilpin speak about their rescue dogs, Henry and Babe, respectively.

A Healing Journey – The spirit of a dog named Bailey comes back over and over until he completes his mission to look after CJ. Director Gail Mancuso notes that when a dog dies, it’s often the first time a child learns about death. Kids, she notes, have found the film cathartic. “Bailey is an angel dog who keeps returning to take care of CJ.” The movie gives kids the opportunity to deal with loss.

Scoring the Journey – Director Gail Mancso observes that “music is so important because it adds the element of emotion.” Composer Mark Isham recalls, “I was in from the beginning. The score runs the complete gamut of emotions.” The piano was the primary voice for the score. There are specific motifs for the different incarnations of Bailey that are “emotional but inspirational and heartwarming.”

Gag Reel – These outtakes feature actors missing cues, forgetting lines and, best of all, dogs deciding to go “off script” in the middle of scenes.

Deleted and Extended Scenes – Several scenes were either eliminated completely or originally ran much longer.
1. It’s Gonna Work
2. A Song for Molly
3. You Can Stay Here
4. Just Do the Laundry
5. Let’s Get Started
6. Gloria Looks at Henry’s Things
7. This Place is Huge
8. It’s Really Happening
9. I’ve Loved You Forever

– Dennis Seuling

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