You probably have heard the controversy over the alleged mistreatment of a German Shepherd named Hercules during the making of A Dog’s Purpose. Using an edited video and pursuing its agenda to keep all animals out of movies and be replaced by CGI creations, PETA has decided to use this Universal family release as a punching bag for its own cause and call for a boycott. The group’s charges and the video have been challenged by the filmmakers after an investigation revealed that while mistakes may have been made, the dog was never in danger, and things weren’t necessarily what they may have appeared to be on that horrendous video given to TMZ just days before the film’s scheduled premiere.

deadline-review-badge-pete-hammond

It would be a shame if all this kept moviegoers from the flawed but emotionally satisfying A Dog’s Purpose, which is tailor-made for families and probably will do more for real dog adoptions and rescues than any movie in a long while. The film is directed by Lasse Hallstrom, who also did the wonderful dog movie Hachi: A Dog’s Tale that starred Richard Gere. There can be no doubt based on that film, and now this one, the man is a real dog lover and he brings that to the forefront here with a series of highly emotional, sometimes funny and thrilling scenes in this story of a dog named Bailey who keeps finding himself reincarnated as many different four-legged friends after his first natural death.

The first hour of the movie is in fact Bailey’s as we see a rather traditional boy-and-his-dog tale unfold when the pooch grows up with Ethan, first as an 8-year-old (Bryce Gheisar) and then a teen (K.J. Apa). This section veers from slapstick silly antics such as the comic disruption of an important business dinner party, to pure melodrama with the over-the-top alcoholic father (Luke Kirby) as well as a school bully (Logan Miller) that drag down the proceedings from the real star of the show, Bailey, who like all the dogs in the film is magnificently trained and appealing on screen. There is also a budding romance between Ethan and Hannah (Britt Robertson) that the dog sweetly lands right in the middle of.

When the time comes for Bailey’s life to end (no spoiler, as this is all in the trailer) he comes back again as Ellie, a German Shepherd police dog teamed with his human partner (John Ortiz), then as another dog named Tino who is loyal to his college student owner (Kirby Howell-Baptiste), and then finally as Buddy, a lunk of a canine stuck initially with a bad owner only to come full circle where the core message, and love of animals, is delivered in a film that to quote the old cliche will have you laughing through tears.

Fortunately, Hallstrom uses great restraint in showing the doggie deaths that are a necessary component of the screenplay, which has been adapted from W. Bruce Cameron’s book by the author himself along with Audrey Wells, Cathryn Michon, Maya Forbes and Wally Wolodarsky. The stars of the show are clearly the dogs as well as the right-on-the-mark voice-over of Bailey by Josh Gad, who invests his performance with just the right touch of whimsy and curiosity. I only wish the human actors were just as compelling, but Apa does well as the teen Ethan, as does veteran Dennis Quaid who inhabits the role in later years. There’s nice work from Robertson, and Peggy Lipton as the older Hannah. Kirby and Miller are given thankless roles but overdo it anyway.

A little less human, and a little more bark would have been the ideal recipe, but Hallstrom has provided a nice addition to the great Hollywood tradition of dog movies that include Lassie, Rin Tin Tin, the great My Dog Skip, Uggie in The Artist, Greyfriars Bobby, Old Yeller and on and on. None of those dogs in those movies were computerized, they were actors, and despite what PETA hopes, their performances, and the work of their trainers, are worthy of Oscars not boycotts. The very first movie I ever saw was a dog romance, Lady And The Tramp, and right after I got a Cocker Spaniel puppy named Lady. I am so glad that movie provided the inspiration. I hope this one does as well so some kid out there can rescue a needy animal just waiting to find a home.

A Dog’s Purpose‘s producer is Gavin Polone. Universal releases the Amblin Entertainment and Walden Media production today.

Do you plan to see it? Let us know what you think.