Bella is so cute! And there's a few funny jokes, a couple heart-warming scenes, and a happy ending! Okay, that's the end of the good stuff.
Now the bad: The movie is disturbing on many levels. For every cute scene of a puppy chewing up a shoe, you get a dead homeless guy or a token minority supporting character bringing up the race card (but for animals). This movie tries to tackle serious social issues like veteran's mental health, homelessness, and normalization of homosexuality, but it does so entirely superficially. And, before we forget, it tries to do this in a kid's movie!!! What results is a morbid, depressing, skewed view of the world that upsets kids and parents alike. Homeward Bound this is not.
This movie is seriously disturbing to kids. At the theater, the little girl in front of me burst out sobbing almost every five to ten minutes! That is not exaggeration; it's easy to see why she cried. A puppy is forcibly separated from its mother. A greedy developer tries to demolish a building filled with animals. Bella is forcibly removed by aninal control. A mountain lion is shot and killed, leaving an orphaned cub. A skier gets swallowed up by an avalanche, and one half of a gay couple attempts to steal his dogs as he is hospitalized. But plot twist: the injured skier turns out to despise the dog that loves him and refuses to take back the dog. Later, a homeless vet chains up Bella then dies, leaving Bella to suffer the same fate until two kids stumble upon her and the vet's corpse.
The movie also presents a disturbingly skewed portrait of veterans that seems to be based entirely on stereotypes. The movie prominently features veterans such as Bella's "mom," who are portrayed as broken, helpless, and depressed. These stock characters exhibit no growth or development despite the multiple years spanning Bella's odyssey. The sole well-functioning veteran is the police captain, who appears at the very (groan-inducing) end of the movie. Such a shallow portrayal of the veterans raises questions about why the filmmakers chose to include (and so prominently feature) the veteran theme at all.
There's lot's of additional nitpicks (both narrative and stylistic) that I won't get into. Suffice it to say that this is no Homeward Bound, and don't expect a harmeless, heart-warming tale about a talking dog. This movie can be upsetting, especially for a tot or pre-schooler and for their parents as well.
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