A Dog’s Way Home
My family’s lore included the oft- told tale of how Bob the kelpie found his way home to Tempe with bleeding paws after being lost in the Blue Mountains – leaving not a dry eye in the house. This movie follows that well-worn path, but with a surprise new chapter in the odyssey: a big-hearted determination to be racially inclusive (Wes Studi, the veteran Native American actor, gets a gig as the good cop) and an empathy towards those who have been damaged, in body and soul, after serving overseas in the military. It all starts with the pup Bella (spoken by Bryce Dallas Howard) growing up with a bunch of cats in the wreckage of a house in Denver. She is taken in by Lucas (Jonah Hauer-King), who lives with his mother Terri (Ashley Judd), a returned soldier in therapy. All’s well until an over-zealous council ranger forces them to take her out of the city. Bella takes flight from her new backyard and embarks on the 400-mile trek back to Lucas. Howard’s childish voice-over soon becomes cloying, but Bella’s journey, which is essentially episodic, is neatly put together and beautifully shot by cinematographer Peter Menzies Jr. Having said that, it is a downside of the advances in CGI that you might often find yourself wondering if a particular image might have been ‘shopped’ for visual effect. Scenes with Baby Cat, the abandoned cougar that grows up under Bella’s protection, are beautiful, but the enchantment is partly nobbled by nagging doubts about its authenticity. Their brief sliding, stumbling play on a frozen lake must be real, though, and it’s a joy. Refreshingly, the people Bella meets along the way are not the expected stereotypes; they include a homeless man who ties her up to use as a prop when begging, and two gay guys who adopt her into their wine-sipping lifestyle. There is nothing cutting-edge about Charles Martin Smith’s film, but the ‘I am Spartacus’ ending and Bella’s reunion with Lucas are enough to warm the cockles.