Have you ever wondered what Siri reading Doge Memes would sound like?
Right off the bat this film almost certainly exists purely as an easy sell to foreign markets; it’s a Chinese co-production, a very simple easily translatable plot and 70% of the dialogue is voiceover making it a very easy dub. And while we’re here, let’s talk about the voiceover because it is truly a nauseating experience listening to this dog describe everything that is happening on the screen in weird baby talk and yet the voiced by Bryce Dallas-Howard, a 37 year old woman. It doesn’t help that the dog, obviously, can’t portray much emotion (it’s a dog) and so having this voiceover trying to project as much emotion as possible onto this deadpan dog is mostly just VERY off putting. Oh and despite Bryce Dallas Howard having roughly 70% of the films dialogue and probably having spent a generous estimate of an hour in the recording booth, does not get a credit. What a thankless role.
The rest of the dialogue is your standard overly unctuous family dramedy fare although poor Alexandria Shipp has to utter the phrases “I’m live streaming this cat murderer!” and “BUT THAT’S RACISM FOR DOGS!” and I screamed on both occasions.
And just in case you were fine with the voiceover, the dog befriends a baby cougar (the dog has an affinity for cats because it was raised by them) and the film did not have the CGI budget for it because it looks awful and like a Beanie Boo and is referred to as “Big Kitten” THROUGHOUT and it gets cringier every time the dog says it. It wasn’t the only CGI trick they tried to pull, thankfully the dog’s mouth never moves, there are also 2 instances of CGI aging of the dog as it goes from new born to puppy and puppy to grown dog and it looked like the cover of an Animorphs book. There is a fully CGI’d ice skating scene between Bella and Big Kitten as well as a cayote fight scene that looks like a Nintendogs Creepy Pasta.
The film does have a number of these vaguely sinister moments that are very quickly glossed over because this is a family film; there’s a scene where Bella pulls a dead deer out from under some leaves (the implication being that she killed the deer and hid it there). The weirdest one has to be that a war veteran chains Bella to him, subsequently dies and two boys stumble across this horrifyingly weird scene in the woods a few days later and do not react beyond saying “Cool!”. The film just really wanted to make war veterans a part of the film whether it ended up fitting in or not – to the point where there is a scene in which 7 ex-military people recite their old job and their infantry directly to camera and oh my God, was this an army recruitment film?
These bizarre and jarring elements just prevent any emotional investment in the film, the dog is cute but also VERY annoying and not even in a way that kid’s will find funny or dog owners will find endearing, it just feels like a very long LOLcat meme that was maybe funny in 2011. In it’s favour it is a short and sweet clocking in at under 100 minutes and will probably make a good Christmas film at the end of the year and with a budget of about $18mil that’s probably all it wanted to be because after all the final emotional beat of the film is the fact that Bella, after a 2 year journey through a grim, dark and cold world remembers what cheese is and how much she loves it and perhaps we should take a lesson from this: appreciate cheese. Love cheese. Remember cheese.