The Dove Take:
A Dog’s Way Home sometimes lags in its 400-mile journey, but it’s emotional payoff regarding veteran care still packs a punch.
A dog travels 400 miles in search of her owner.
Even with a strong human cast led by Ashley Judd, Jonah Hauer-King, Edward James Olmos, Bryce Dallas Howard, and Wes Studi, the star of A Dog’s Way Home is Shelby, the canine actor who plays Bella. Appearing nearly human with empathy and communicative facial tics, the dog’s persona draws the audience in and spins a story that depicts familial bonds and an adventurous epic to healing and reconciliation.
Bella becomes separated from her owners and struggles to reunite with them. Over miles and miles of terrain, through interactions with humans who are compassionate and those who are not, and in the face of natural enemies and disasters, Bella pushes forward, knowing that her owner/friend, Lucas (Hauer-King), longs to see her again. There are elements of natural adventure and moments of humor mixed in with Bella’s journey that will keep the audience on the edge of their seats hoping for Bella’s success in her travels.
Judd’s portrayal is that of a post-traumatic stress disorder-suffering veteran, and mother. Her involvement with the VA Hospital sets up one of the deeper motifs of the film: an exploration of how society and government receive and care for American soldiers who return from service. While the overarching movement of the film is Bella’s journey to find her way home, the emotional subtext is that of the veterans who must combat their emotional and spiritual wounds together with the help of their canine friends.
Some viewers will find the treatment of the veterans, especially the death of a homeless vet (Olmos), or the conflict between Bella and various wild animals disturbing, but the majority of the story is benign and family friendly, and merits the Dove-Approved Seal for All Ages.