As Bailey sits in the kitchen, in his favorite spot by his favorite chair, the aging St. Bernard can’t help but think that life is good on his little farm. His boy, Ethan, well, isn’t quite a boy anymore. And his girl, Hannah, isn’t so girlish either. But that’s OK. There’s still sunshine to lie in, chores to help with, golden fields to romp through and a purpose to fulfill. Oh, and … bacon.
Yeah, bacon is definitely good.
And that’s why the littlest member of their pack, C.J., is one of Bailey’s favorites. That toddling girl is good at playing and snuggling. But she’s great at bacon. All Bailey has to do is wait by her chair at meal times, like now, and any number of treats will drop to the floor and into his domain. Yum. Good C.J.
Now C.J.’s mother, Gloria, isn’t so much fun. Or good. Or nice, even. But since she’s the one who brought CJ into the pack, everything else is forgiven.
Maybe it’s the fact that Gloria sleeps so long or talks endlessly into that tiny box in her hand. Maybe that’s what keeps her so unhappy. Maybe it’s that stuff she drinks that makes her smell funny most of the time. Or maybe it’s that Ethan and Hannah’s son hasn’t come home. He has been gone a long time it seems. (Of course, time is something a dog like Bailey doesn’t really understand very well.) It’s probably bacon. Gloria just needs more bacon. She ought to spend more time around C.J.
Bailey would share.
As Bailey sits and looks lovingly on, though, he can sense that things aren’t so good for the humans he protects and loves. And that feeling is soon proved out as Gloria starts to yell and begins to wave her arms anxiously and grabs C.J. out of her chair.
Then, before you know it, Gloria and little C.J. leave. And this leaves Ethan and Hannah so very sad. Bailey can sense their sorrow as plainly as he can remember the taste of bacon he’s no longer eating.
But soon, Bailey gets sick with a strange lump in his belly. And before Ethan can say, “Good boy, Boss Dog,” things have gotten worse. The lump hurts. Bailey isn’t hungry, even for bacon, anymore. He’s pretty sure that he’ll be leaving soon, too.
Ethan holds Bailey’s head and looks lovingly into his eyes and says nice, soothing things as the doctor lady sticks him with a small, sharp needle. And his time—that thing that dogs know so little of—runs out. “If you come back. You look out for our C.J. You hear me?” Ethan says as he strokes Bailey’s fur.
Bailey understands completely.
You see, this isn’t the first time Bailey has had to leave. He’s left and come back many times before in the form of one canine or another. He always returns and seeks after his purpose. But now, Bailey has a new purpose, a new goal.
Bailey will come back. He’ll come back for little C.J., whatever that takes. He’ll protect her. He’ll help her.
That’s his purpose now. And guiding C.J. as she grows up will be a remarkable journey for both of them.
One of the biggest positives in this film is Ethan and Hannah’s loving relationship. It’s not that they don’t have their share of worry or disappointment and pain in life. They do. But throughout all of those many ups and downs, they display a consistent love and support for each other and for their family members. They even make repeated attempts to reach out to their estranged daughter-in-law, Gloria, after she leaves with little C.J.
That kind of unconditional consistency is very much a part of Bailey’s character, too. “Loving people is my purpose,” the beloved dog declares, voicing his narrator-like internal monologue throughout the film. He even wants the best for unlikeable people, wishing that Gloria might find a dog someday. “She needs love,” he opines—accurately. And the film likewise emphasizes that intention to see the best in others, to love and be loved, as valued aspirations for dogs and humans alike.
Through most of the film, Gloria is in desperate need of that loving lesson. She makes a number of self-destructive choices that drive an adult C.J. away. But eventually, Gloria comes to understand her failings and takes steps to clean up her life and to reconcile with her daughter.
C.J.’s long-lasting relationship with a friend named Trent is also a great representation of self-sacrificial love and consistency. At different stages, these two both step forward to support and care for each other, through sickness, health and ongoing storms in their respective lives.
There are certainly sad moments here as both beloved pets and beloved people pass away. But through those painful losses, the film gently reminds us that grief is a natural part of life—especially when you love someone. Loss is something we must face, embrace and learn from, it tells us.
This film gently hints at a heaven and a reunion with loved ones after death. The spiritual message here isn’t well defined, but at the end of the film, in the doggy hero’s apparent last passing, Bailey runs to join a loving human who’s waiting for him in an open golden field, representing paradise.
Before that final passing, though, Bailey comes back over and over again, reborn repeatedly into the bodies of different kinds of dogs. Each rebirth is prefaced with him running through that golden field of grass. Bailey’s consciousness, however, is always the same, and he retains memories from previous existences.
How that rebirthing process works or what it means is never explored. What’s more, it’s never hinted at or insinuated that humans might have those same rebirthing experiences. In fact, Bailey’s meeting with a deceased beloved human in that heavenly field, would suggest just the opposite.
Gloria wears a few cleavage-baring outfits. And while C.J. is only a young girl of 11, Gloria leaves her on her own as she heads out on late-night dates. In one case we see that she has brought the guy back home, and that he’s apparently slept over. Another brief relationship implies that a guy has moved in with Gloria. And later, a twentysomething C.J. is living with her boyfriend, though we never see them in any intimate moments.
After Bailey gets reincarnated the first time, he recognizes that he is now a girl puppy (played in a humorous way). We see couples kissing, something Bailey repeatedly describes as people “licking each other.”
We see various incarnations of Baily’s doggy selves die on several occasions. Once, it’s from cancer: he winces and comments about the pain he feels, and his painful decline prompts Ethan to (mournfully) have their vet put him to sleep. In another life, Baily and a teen C.J. are in a car chase that ends with C.J.’s vehicle being purposely rear-ended by another vehicle. Their car crashes and flips, and Bailey is critically injured (though bloodlessly so).
A toddler C.J. wanders into a horse paddock and is in danger of being stomped by a rearing horse before she’s saved by Bailey and Ethan. As both a teen and an adult, C.J. is grabbed roughly by two different guys. In the earlier incident, her shirt is ripped and it appears she might be physically harmed (or perhaps sexually assaulted) before Bailey bites the guy’s leg so that C.J. can pull away and run off.
One of Bailey’s incarnations is a small dog that tends to bite peoples finger’s to keep them at bay.
We hear one clearly voiced “oh god” as well as another potentially unfinished usage of that profanity. Characters also exclaim “oh my gosh” a couple of times. Trent mentions that his father got angry about something and did a lot of “swearing in Mandarin.”
Gloria drinks heavily, repeatedly downing multiple glasses of chardonnay before and after leaving her 11-year-old daughter to fend for herself. We see her quite drunk in one scene and passed out in another, and it’s obvious that her relationships with her boyfriends are all alcohol related. A sleepover boyfriend fixes drinks for breakfast, for instance, etc. In fact, a teen C.J. reports that her mom is “drunk half the time.” And Gloria justifies her inebriated choices as being something that’s perfectly acceptable for an adult.
Eventually, though, Gloria assesses all that her choices have caused her to lose—including a relationship with C.J.—and she takes steps to get sober and fix her broken life.
In spite of her experience with her mom, C.J. agrees to go to a party with a boy she likes. The house is full of underage people drinking beer. The guy tries to coax her into drinking as well, but she’s not at all interested and is very uncomfortable being at the party. We also witness the sale of some kind of illicit drug at the party, a transaction that C.J.’s boyfriend is a part of. Before C.J. can leave the party, the police raid it and arrest her.
As mentioned, a veterinarian injects Bailey, who’s suffering from the growth of a tumor, with a chemical to put the animal to sleep.
Plenty of dog-centric giggles involve backside sniffing, doggy destruction of property, dogs peeing and defecating on things.
Gloria repeatedly illustrates what a bad mom looks like: abandoning, emotionally abusing and even stealing from her daughter.
Like its predecessor, A Dog’s Purpose, this tear-jerking flick avoids nasty content as determinedly as the average mutt scorns a bath. In fact, this canine sequel is unquestionably of the same breed and straight out of the same litter as the original.
That being so, the story’s unexplained doggy reincarnation is likely the biggest issue that parents of faith will have to navigate with little viewers. Some critics have dog-tagged that pup-to-pup soul transfer as “Buddhism for beginners,” but this aspect of the film is actually handled in a pretty non-theological way: It’s simply used as a plot device to help move a somewhat nonsensical tale forward. In addition, the movie’s depiction of heaven as a dreamy golden field of grass could be a great way to talk to kids about what Christian families actually believe when it comes to the things of life, death and the afterlife.
Other than that, there’s a bit of car-crash peril, a struggle with alcoholism, an attempted assault and the sad deaths of both human and canine characters. It’s the sort of unsettling stuff that could ruffle the fur of the youngest dog lovers in your pack.
But if you can make it past those relatively minor barks and growls, you’ll find a warm story here. It not only speaks of the bonds between people and their pets, but it also takes the time to deal with very real issues of bereavement, brokenness, addiction, reconciliation and family commitment.
A Dog’s Journey is a sweet, loving and endearing pic. And it will certainly make you smile a little bigger when you get back home to your own joyous, tail-wagging buddy.
Like Bailey, we can make a strong commitment to love our family well and to help them through the ups and downs. For some ways to add a bit more bark or a little wag to your family, check out these Focus on the Family resources:
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.