Over the last couple of days, I have had a lot of conversations about the controversy around A Dog’s Purpose, and I’ve heard the same two words over and over.
“I’m disappointed,” people keep telling me.
So many dog lovers were looking forward to experiencing the story promised by the film’s tearjerking trailer (that of a dog who is reborn several times and reconnects with the human he loves) but felt they couldn’t support the film in the wake of TMZ’s leaked footage of a canine actor being pushed into a pool.
To those people I say, read the book. I recently did and can attest that it is even more powerful than the film trailer. That’s pretty amazing, considering the first time I saw the trailer on TV I sobbed into my cat’s fur so hard my husband shifted uncomfortably on the sofa and said, “you can go see that with someone else.”
That emotion-provoking trailer introduced me not only to the film version of A Dog’s Purpose but to the book too. I hadn’t yet read the bestseller by W. Bruce Cameron when promotion for the movie began but figured, as somebody who writes about dogs and dog culture, I probably should as I would be writing about the film.
If the movie trailer was a rainstorm of feelings, the book was a tsunami. I read, both to myself and aloud to my toddler son, with tears streaming down my face pretty much constantly. It’s a no-mascara read. My husband, who just doesn’t understand such reactions, asked, “why do you keep reading that book if it makes you cry?”
“Because it’s beautiful,” I told him.
I read with my human baby on my lap and Jack Russell mix, Marshmallow, cuddled beside me. When I got to parts about a canine character who shares her name, Marshmallow would look at me like, “Mom, I’m right here. You’re crazy.”
While Marshmallow’s name is in the text, the book actually reminds me more of my other dog, GhostBuster the Golden-Lab. He shares a lot in common with the main narrator, Bailey, a delightful dog who loves food, peeing on stuff, and — above everything else — his boy.
I think W. Bruce Cameron does an amazing job presenting the world from a dog’s perspective. He captures how some actions that make sense to humans must just seem so silly to dogs, and how that can result in miscommunications between the species.
That’s part of the reason why I enjoyed the book so much because it reminded me to try to see the world through the eyes of my pets. Dogs may not talk in the kind of eloquent english W. Bruce Cameron lends them in A Dog’s Purpose, but they do communicate with us if we choose to listen.
That’s exactly why the movie version is problematic for dog lovers because, to paraphrase a veterinarian I spoke to yesterday, no one on the film set listened to Hercules the German Shepherd when he was clearly saying no.
Cameron himself addressed the issue on his Facebook page, noting that he was as disturbed as fans are.
Though obviously edited and hysterically headlined, the images speak for themselves.
I have asked the studio for an explanation and have been assured they are reviewing every single frame of footage shot that day and interviewing the people who were there. (I wasn’t.)
I want all the facts at my disposal before I pronounce judgement or issue an opinion.
I will give you an update as soon as I have one.
While fans await the author’s update, some animal lovers are calling for a prohibition on animal performers in film. Many social media users say they wish A Dog’s Purpose had been made using CGI instead of real dogs, because then they could enjoy the film guilt-free.
My advice to disappointed moviegoers is this: Reframe the movie trailer as a book trailer. Pick up a copy of W. Bruce Cameron’s best-selling novel and let your imagination do the CGI. You may even find it more enjoyable than going to the theater. After all, you can’t take your dog to the movies, but they can stay by your side while you read the book at home. The snacks will be cheaper too.
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