As someone who spoils two endearing Labradors and is full-fledged lover of dogs in general, it was inevitable that I would be drawn to read A Dog’s Purpose by W. Bruce Cameron.
The novel gives the reader an insightful view of the world through a dog’s mind as he (sometimes she) progresses through multiple lives on Earth. Starting the first life as a stray then being reincarnated as different breeds, he returns through four lives as a best friend, police hero and companion who brings soulmates together, helping them recognize their love for one another. While the dog is exposed to new surroundings and situations each time he returns, the ultimate goal is to find the true meaning of life through interactions with humans and other animals.
I love reading novels that are in preparation of hitting the big screen, experiencing the emotions provoked in paperback and comparing them to the character’s that come to life through film.
While I was incredibly moved and awestruck by the novel, I was not as impressed with the movie for a few concrete reasons.
Throughout the book, I was completely captivated by each life. The dog had clear traits that shaped the personalities, which helped differentiate the lives in unique ways. Cameron put the same amount of focus on each life which tied the end of the novel together perfectly. The transition from one life to another flowed smoothly. There was a significant connection each time the dog was reborn, but this was not replicated in the movie.
The life of the stray dog, Toby, who bonded mostly with other dogs and the woman who tried to save all strays in the novel was completely disregarded in the film. The only part that made it in the movie from the first life was the stray being picked up by the dog catcher. I was disappointed to not see the curious, heartwarming and courageous Toby come to life and discover his purpose. His journey of leaving his family, bonding with other dogs and experiencing being loved for the first time truly molds him into the spirited and special Golden Retriever he becomes in his second life.
The movie jumped right into the life of that Golden Retriever, Bailey. All of the characters from Bailey’s life appeared in the film, but the traits, occupations and certain storylines were completely different. While it is difficult to include everything in an over 300 page novel into a two hour movie, I feel like there was more emphasis on the humans than the thoughts and actions of Bailey, which is extremely different considering the entire novel is from the dog’s point of view.
This critique goes for the rest of the film as we are taken through when it is time to be reborn. Another unexpected twist was when a Corgi’s life was added into the movie, which was not in the book. The film separated Ellie’s life, the German Shepherd police hero into two identities and stories. I hoped to see more focus on her life because her purpose changed the lives of several people, showing how big of a blessing she was to the police force and families.
Although the ending seemed rushed, the movie did tie everything together nicely. The last life shows Buddy applying all the lessons and love he has experienced in prior lives to bring people together. I wish the movie was able to capture and go more in depth to help the audience better connect with the dogs’ like the novel does, but I have to say that the emotional appeal was still there and seeing those sweet faces, unconditional love and unbreakable bonds the dogs created melted my heart through both forms of media.
If you have a weak spot for dogs, you will still find joy watching the film, but reading the novel first sets the expectations extremely high.