SBTC Annual Meeting 2019

REVIEW: ‘A Dog’s Journey’ is a pet flick wrapped in a reincarnation plot

May 17th, 2019 / By: Michael Foust / comments

REVIEW: ‘A Dog’s Journey’ is a pet flick wrapped in a reincarnation plot

Bailey is a dog who wouldn’t change a thing about his life. He lives on a huge farm. He rides to town in a big pickup truck. His owners, Ethan and Hannah, treat him like their own child.

“I feel like the luckiest dog in the world.”

But not everything is rosy in Bailey’s world.

A few months ago, Ethan’s adult son died in a tragic car accident, leaving behind a widow named Gloria to raise a baby daughter, C.J.

She and C.J. moved in with Ethan and Hannah, her in-laws. And after a misunderstanding and argument, she moved out, promising never to return.

“She’s my baby -- not yours,” Gloria said before leaving. 

Then Bailey became terminally ill. Then he died. Then Gloria started drinking, leaving C.J. to fend for herself.

It may sound like the lyrics to a honky-tonk tune, but this story has a happy ending.

Bailey was reincarnated as another dog, Big Dog, and then another dog, Molly, and then another dog, Max. Each time, he was sent to care for C.J., who found his companionship priceless through her childhood and young adult years.

The movie A Dog’s Journey(PG) opens this weekend, starring Dennis Quaid (The Rookie) as Ethan, Marg Helgenberger (Erin Brockovich) as Hannah, Betty Gilpin (GLOW) as Gloria and Josh Gad (Beauty and the Beast) as the voice of Bailey.

The film is based on a book by W. Bruce Cameron and a sequel to the 2017 film, A Dog’s Purpose(2017), which also was based on a Cameron novel.

It is aimed at children and families and -- apart from the worldview -- has few other non-family-friendly elements for Christian parents. For lovers of pets, it’s a fun flick.

Yet the movie’s strong focus on reincarnation isn’t a small problem.

Let’s examine the details.    

Warning: minor/moderate spoilers!

(Scale key: none, minimal, moderate, extreme)

Violence/Disturbing

Minimal. We see C.J., as a toddler, walk into a fenced-in area with an out-of-control horse. (She is rescued.) As a teenager, C.J. dates a boy who grabs her arm when she tries to leave. He doesn’t hit her, but part of her clothes tear. The same boy later chases her in his truck, resulting in her crashing her car. (She survives, but the dog dies.) C.J. dates another boy who grabs her arm when she tries to leave. (She has a tendency to date irresponsible men.)   

Sexuality/Sensuality/Nudity

Minimal. It’s implied that Gloria lives with one or two men, although we never see them kiss. (The movie has no bedroom scenes.) When C.J. asks her if one of her boyfriends is nice, Gloria responds, “They always start off nice.” Gloria wears one or two outfits showing too much skin. C.J. kisses a boyfriend passionately in the backseat; the scene cuts away. She moves to the city, where she moves in with a boyfriend. When that doesn’t work out, a platonic male friend lets her stay with him. She kisses a man at the end of the film.

Coarse Language

None/minimal. One possible OMG. One other misuse of “God.” At least three to four instances of Bailey referencing his or another person’s “butt.” 

Other Positive Elements

The love that Ethan and Hannah show for Gloria and C.J. is touching.

When Gloria moves out, Ethan and Hannah display patience and never lose hope that the relationship will be restored.

Other Stuff You Might Want To Know

Gloria is a young widow whose husband died. After he passed away, she becomes an alcoholic and an irresponsible mother who often leaves C.J. home alone at night while dating. Gloria often drinks glasses of wine.

C.J. impersonates her mom during a phone conversation and lies in order to get Bailey. A few minutes later, she lies again. (Eventually, she is caught in her lies, but her mother lets her keep the dog.) 

C.J. goes to a party where beer is served. (She asks her boyfriend to take her home.) Two teenagers exchange a package that looks like drugs. C.J. is arrested but released.

We see several arguments. Gloria argues intensely with Ethan and Hannah.

Life Lessons

We learn about the power of words -- both positively and negatively (Gloria moves out after she is offended by something Hannah says.)

We learn that bad choices lead to bad consequences (C.J. opts to date an irresponsible man.) 

We also learn about unforgiveness and bitterness (Gloria moves out of Ethan and Hannah’s home. Later, C.J. moves out of Gloria’s home and pledges never to return.) Yet we also learn about redemption. (The movie has a happy ending.)

Worldview/Application

What is the purpose of dogs? Of pets? Bailey has an idea.

“Loving people is my ultimate purpose,” Bailey says.

Perhaps he’s onto something. 

When you watch a joy-filled child chase a dog or an elderly person pet one, it’s easy to agree with Bailey.

Pets, after all, are one of God’s great gifts to mankind. Why else would He have created certain animals that are so easily domesticated and that treat you like a king? They provide companionship. They remind you of the simple pleasures of life. They make you … happy.

It’s just too bad that the story is wrapped in a pro-reincarnation plot.

The Bible teaches that we die once, and only once (Hebrews 9:27, Matthew 25:46). The concept of reincarnation is unbiblical, for both humans and animals.

And while a good case can be made that animals will be in heaven (Isaiah 11:6, 65:25), the Bible is silent on whether specific pets will be there.

What Works

Bailey’s interaction with people. It’s a joy to watch.

What Doesn’t

The scenes showing men getting physical with C.J. They don’t belong in a film geared toward families.

Discussion Questions

1. What does the Bible say about reincarnation? 

2. C.J. initially did not want to forgive her mother. Have you ever harbored feelings of unforgiveness? What does Scripture say about forgiving others? Why is it hard sometimes?

3. Gloria and Hannah have an argument early in the movie. Who was right? Who was wrong? Why? 

4. Why is cohabitation (living together before marriage) wrong -- both biblically and practically?

Entertainment rating:3 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating:3.5 out of 5 stars.

Rated PG for thematic content, some peril and rude humor.