From a Judeo-Christian perspective, the prevailing notion may be that all dogs indeed go to heaven, but “A Dog’s Purpose,” based on the book by W. Bruce Cameron, directed by Lasse Hallstrom, takes a different approach, suggesting that dogs are constantly reincarnated. We follow the lives of a pup voiced by Josh Gad: first, briefly, the stray puppy; then a red retriever named Bailey in the 1960s and ’70s; Ellie, a German Shepherd K-9 police dog; Tino, a chubby ’80s corgi; and finally Buddy, a neglected St. Bernard with a long road home.
The section dedicated to Bailey and his boy Ethan (Bryce Gheisar, then K.J. Apa), takes place in a “Pleasantville”-inspired simulacrum of midcentury Americana. It feels odd, cramming in dramatics of first loves, alcoholic fathers and tragic events, all of which isn’t supported by the omnibus format of the film, which requires a kind of shallow, pat storytelling that’s all about short, endearing dog anecdotes.