When I was five, my family acquired a friendly border collie named Spiffy. A few weeks later, we went on vacation, leaving Spiffy in the care of friends -- and he ran off.
Their property was several miles from ours, separated by a creek, a highway and a train track; and Spiffy, who had been with us a very short time, could hardly be expected to have any sense of where we lived. But 10 days later, to our undying amazement, the worn-out, hungry and happy little fellow came running into our backyard.
I guess this makes me the perfect viewer for “A Dog’s Way Home,” the story of a lovable pit bull who flees while staying with her owner’s relatives 400 miles from home.
But despite this personal bias, I can safely say that folks who see “A Dog’s Way Home” are going to get exactly what they want: lots of lovable animals, a little excitement, some gentle humor and a happy ending that comes with a great big lump in your throat.
Granted, the storyline has potential for corniness -- especially when you add voice-over narration by the dog herself. But co-writers W. Bruce Cameron and Cathryn Michon keep their dialog spare and simple, and the movie generally sidesteps maudlin sentimentalism. (Cameron adapted his own novel for 2017’s “A Dog’s Purpose”; he’s currently scripting its follow-up, “A Dog’s Journey.”)
The human cast is strong, with good vocal work from Bryce Dallas Howard as Bella and solid appearances by veteran character actors Wes Studi and Edward James Olmos.
But despite all this skill, the writers and cast can thank their lucky animal stars -- especially the one playing full-grown Bella. Indeed, the film’s footage of various dogs and cats is so authentic and effective that it’s a huge let-down when Bella, lost in the wilderness, hooks up with a cougar that is done entirely with computer-generated images. The visuals here are not convincing, and “Dog” really stumbles during these scenes.
Credit for keeping this film on its furry feet must also go to director Charles Martin Smith, of whom I’ve long been a fan. Smith’s impressive career began with key roles in “American Graffiti,” “Starman” and “Never Cry Wolf,” but recently he seems to have become a go-to man for directing films about animals. His 1997 hit “Air Bud,” for example, looks lame on the surface but is actually an effective little crowd-pleaser.
The same can be said for “A Dog’s Way Home.”
“A Dog’s Way Home,”
directed by Charles Martin Smith
Run time: 96 min.
* * * (out of four)
Rated PG for thematic elements, some peril and language