The "Homeward Bound" movies of the early '90s solidified the family film subgenre of cross-country adventures by lovable, anthropomorphized pets. The latest entry, "A Dog's Way Home," doesn't do anything new with the formula, but it does deliver exactly what it promises — a movie that's cute, with just enough tension to not scare youngsters.
The script was adapted by W. Bruce Cameron and his wife, Cathryn Michon, from his book — part of a series that also led to the 2017 film "A Dog's Purpose." Like that charmer, "Way Home" has an episodic plot seasoned with dog-centric musings about "my humans" and the glories of foraging from garbage cans.
The star of the show is Bella, whose thoughts are given voice by Bryce Dallas Howard. Via a story that takes longer than necessary to get into gear — the title is basically a plot synopsis, so do we really need half an hour of setup? — Bella ends up separated from her human family (the term "owners" is never used). Pulled by "an invisible leash of love," she sets out to hike the 400 miles home.
The scenery will be a saving grace for grown-up viewers. Bella has to make her way across the Colorado Rockies, which provide a stunning backdrop. At times, this almost looks like a nature film, with Bella marching past moose, sipping from pristine, gurgling streams and gazing at snow-covered peaks. There also are some well-known faces among the cast, including Ashley Judd, Edward James Olmos and Wes Studi. Bella's main human is played by Jonah Hauer-King (from the BBC adaptation of "Little Women"), who manages to sound not at all British.
It was directed by Charles Martin Smith — yes, the guy who played Terry the Toad in "American Graffiti," who has segued to a solid career as a filmmaker. He was a good choice. As the director who unleashed "Air Bud" on the unsuspecting public, he's worked with four-legged protagonists before. And his wilderness adventure "The Snow Walker" made great use of its setting.
Cat lovers, take note: There are a couple of nice nods toward felines, too. Cameron and Michon reportedly are working on a third dog movie, but if they ever run out of cutesy dialogue for pooches, it's not a bad idea to expand their audience base.