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'A Dog's Journey' review: Corny but effective tearjerker for kids, families

Bailey (voiced by Josh Gad) in "A Dog's

Bailey (voiced by Josh Gad) in "A Dog's Journey."  Photo Credit: Universal Pictures

PLOT Bailey, a reincarnated dog, gets a new purpose in life.

CAST Josh Gad, Kathryn Prescott, Josh Gad

RATED PG (some rude humor, themes of death and dying)

LENGTH 1:48

BOTTOM LINE A corny but effective tearjerker for kids and families.

The novelist W. Bruce Cameron returns with another canine weeper, “A Dog’s Journey,” his third book-to-film project in as many years. Like its prequel, 2017’s “A Dog’s Purpose,” this Universal Pictures production is a mix of sudsy drama, nondenominational religiosity and puppies — a winning formula, though not a foolproof one. After a serious misstep with “A Dog’s Way Home” — a stand-alone episode from a different studio released earlier this year — the Cameron machine gets back on track with this warm-and-fuzzy entry.

“Journey” begins shortly after the last chapter of “Purpose,” in which Bailey, a reincarnated dog with Josh Gad's happy-go-lucky voice, finally found his way to his original owner, Ethan (Dennis Quaid). Now they’re living the late-life American dream: house on a hill, big yard, farmland that doesn’t actually need working. There’s been tragedy, though: Ethan and his wife, Hannah (Marg Helgenberger), are helping raise their granddaughter, CJ, whose father has died and whose mother, Gloria (Betty Gilpin), seems more concerned with dating and drinking than parenting.

“Maybe you’ll come back,” Ethan tells Bailey when the dog breathes his last (again), “and protect CJ.”

That Bailey does, first when CJ is a middle-schooler (an endearing Abby Ryder Fortson), then again when she’s a teenager with rock-star dreams (now played by Kathryn Prescott). Whatever Bailey's current breed or gender, he will help CJ through bad boyfriends, drug busts and a move to New York City to pursue her career. Bailey will also lead CJ back to Trent (Henry Lau), a childhood friend who just might be The One.

Directed by Gail Mancuso and written by Cameron with his wife, Cathryn Michon, and two others, “Journey” improves on the original film thanks to better-drawn characters. Gloria is a convincing figure, despicable yet pitiable (kudos to Gilpin’s assured performance), while Trent follows his own journey from stereotypical Asian kid (the rule-follower cowed by his parents) to happy, well-adjusted adult. As for CJ, she’s more sweet than interesting, but Prescott gives the character a bit of self-reliant grit.

“Journey” will stop at nothing to get your tears flowing — unopened letters from dead parents, emotional reunions, a cancer diagnosis — and it’s bound to melt even the hardest heart. If you’re too proud to admit it, just blame your tears on pet allergies.

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