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Bella (voiced by Bryce Dallas Howard) is a stray puppy who lives under the ruins of an old house in a suburb in Denver, Colorado. As her life is just beginning, her mother and siblings are captured by the local animal rescue league, but she is left alone to be raised by a cat and her kittens. One day a young animal lover named Lucas (Jonah Hauer-King) comes to feed the brood of cats, but discovers the young canine and they quickly bond. Bella quickly connects with her new owner, his mother played by Ashley Judd and the veterans at the local Veterans Administration who are working through the challenges of adapting to the world after returning from war.
Despite being the friend to so many throughout their community, the dog becomes the target of the local dogcatcher. Due to new laws in the city, Bella is earmarked to be euthanised. To avoid this sentence, Lucas decides to send Bella to a friends home across the border to New Mexico, until they can find another place to live outside the city limits of Denver. Even though she is well cared for at her temporary home, the young dog merely wants to ‘go home’ and runs away from Lucas’ friends' home. This begins the 600-kilometre journey to find Lucas which introduces her to new people, different wild animals and forces her to discover her instincts to survive.
This canine adventure comes from the creative collaboration of author W. Bruce Cameron (A Dog’s Purpose) and director Charles Martin Smith who brought animal fans other tales like Air Bud and Dolphin Tale. These two men manage to capture the heart of these animals and draw audiences into a heart-rendering, albeit familiar story of loyalty and survival. Reminiscent of Homeward Bound, the journey across treacherous terrain and confrontations with coyotes, cougars and various humans provide a satisfactory option for families.When Bella travels through the mountains of the Southwestern portion of the United States, there is a beauty to the landscape that complements the storyline. Even with strong performances from the animals in the film and supportive roles from the humans, some of the more precarious situations and animal confrontations were reliant on CGI. These scenes were not prolific, but they did expose some of the weaker elements of the film, but do attempt to provide a fresh perspective to a well-worn storyline.
A Dog’s Way Home is a film for the animal lovers of the world who can forgive the retreading of similar stories from years gone by, but love to think that dogs are better actors than humans. The puppy on the poster may draw audiences into the theatres and it offers the laughs and tears needed to make people want to buy the puppy in the window on the way home.
What should parents know about A Dog’s Way Home? The warnings on the film deal with mild themes which include death, war veteran’s mental health issues, animal cruelty and animal-on-animal violence. The most confronting scene deals with the death of a homeless man played by Edward James Olmos. This aspect of life and the other themes are all handled in subtle ways that should not be too scary for younger viewers, but may mean some conversations about these topics in the car on the way home.