A Dog’s Way Home simply attempts to tell the story of a lost animal on a journey, an adventure; experiencing different owners, different ways of living and surviving, and meeting different friends along the way. While audiences certainly get an array of different locations and characters, the journey this dog takes doesn’t feel like it was moving toward its destination – to home. Why? Because little of what home even means in established in this emotionally manipulative attempt at animal adventure. Often there are sequences that jump from towns, to cities, to mountains, and repeat that all over again. None of this felt like natural progression and it never felt like the dog Bella (Bryce Dallas Howard) went on any sort of journey, just that she jumped around to different story points to satisfy the criteria of a journey. This artificiality seeps through almost every aspect of this family film; it is campy in a bad way, cheesy in the worst way, and emotional in a dull way.
While there are some admirable performances in here, specifically by Alexandra Shipp, the lead voice by Bryce Dallas Howard was nothing short of ear splitting cheesiness. There is one however that tops her by an order of magnitude; Jonah Hauer-King plays the dog’s owner, and he provides nothing more than high-school level acting, displaying a severe lack of experience during the films vital emotional crux.
Like many live-action animal films there are a few ways these films can be made; you either digitally animate the animals face to produce speech, or apply a voiceover to simulate their thoughts – A Dog’s Way Home has attempted to try both here, with CGI emotions layered on the dogs face and a very prominent narration of the lead dogs every thought. While a large amount of this film is live-action, which was nice to see, there are portions where entire characters (other animals) are rendered entirely in CGI. This resulted in some disastrous CGI moments, from blurry animations, screen tearing, and a blatant morphing on the animal’s faces.
Above all, it was the painfully campy music that tipped this film over the edge for me, with sickly artificial sappy music attempting to tear jerk its audience throughout the film. The choice of music often overpowered any scene that had slight potential at being heartfelt.
It is clear director Charles Martin Smith skimped on both pre and post production. He shows a clear inability to draw out convincing performances from his actors or to create any sort of vision. Is this film wholesome? Sure. Is it a great adventure movie? No. If you want a truly heartfelt adventure about live-action animals with a satisfying payoff then go watch Disney’s Homeward Bound (1993). A Dog’s Way Home felt like being woken up at 5 AM by your neighbour’s yappy Chihuahua. It’s not cute, it’s just kind of irritating.