Australian Council on Children and the Media

A Dog's Way Home

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Short takes

Not recommended under 5 and parental guidance to 10 (Distressing scenes and themes).

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This topic contains:

  • overall comments and recommendations
  • details of classification and consumer advice lines for A Dog's Way Home
  • a review of A Dog's Way Home completed by the Australian Council on Children and the Media (ACCM) on 7 March 2019.

Overall comments and recommendations

Children under 5 Not recommended
Children aged 5–10 Parental Guidance recommended due to distressing scenes and themes.
Children over the age of 10 OK for this age group

About the movie

This section contains details about the movie, including its classification by the Australian Government Classification Board and the associated consumer advice lines.

Name of movie: A Dog's Way Home
Classification: PG
Consumer advice lines: Mild Themes
Length 96 minutes

ACCM review

This review of the movie contains the following information:

A synopsis of the story

A Dog’s Way Home is the story of a dog named Bella, (voice of Bryce Dallas Howard) as told by her, who starts life beneath a derelict building with her mum and many cats. One day a very scary dog controller, Chuck (John Cassini), captures Bella’s mum and takes her away. One of the mother cats adopts Bella and looks after her until she’s found by Lucas (Jonah Hauer-King) who takes her home to live with him and his Mum Terri (Ashley Judd). Terri suffers from PSTD as a returned army veteran and Bella is a great help to her. Lucas, however, is Bella’s ‘person’ and he teaches her all sorts of tricks including ‘go home’ which is where she finds her own way home.

Unfortunately for Bella, Chuck is determined to catch her and lock her up. He has decided she is a dangerous Pitbull and should be destroyed. He threatens to have her euthanised if he catches her on the streets. Lucas decides to send Bella to another state, which doesn’t have this law, and intends to join her. Bella is so upset to be parted from Lucas however, that she decides to ‘go home’ before Lucas can get there. The rest of the story is Bella’s dangerous trip across New Mexico back to Denver, which covers over 600 kilometres and takes two and a half years. Along the way, Bella is attacked by wolves, befriends an orphaned cougar, is kept chained up by a homeless man and is hit by a car. Bella shows great courage in the face of adversity and is rewarded in the end by reuniting with her beloved Lucas.

Themesinfo

Children and adolescents may react adversely at different ages to themes of crime, suicide, drug and alcohol dependence, death, serious illness, family breakdown, death or separation from a parent, animal distress or cruelty to animals, children as victims, natural disasters and racism. Occasionally reviews may also signal themes that some parents may simply wish to know about.

Animals in peril; animals in the wild; separation from a parent.

Use of violenceinfo

Research shows that children are at risk of learning that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution when violence is glamourised, performed by an attractive hero, successful, has few real life consequences, is set in a comic context and / or is mostly perpetrated by male characters with female victims, or by one race against another.

Repeated exposure to violent content can reinforce the message that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution. Repeated exposure also increases the risks that children will become desensitised to the use of violence in real life or develop an exaggerated view about the prevalence and likelihood of violence in their own world.

There is some violence in this movie including:

  • The owner of the condemned buildings confronts Lucas and Olivia (his girlfriend) and yells at them to keep off his property. They were there feeding the cats.
  • This man also confronts Terri and tells her not to ‘go to war with him’ over the demolition of the buildings.
  • Terri grabs Chuck by the arm and tells him in strong words that he must allow Lucas to take Bella to the car.
  • A cougar is shot dead by hunters.
  • Wolves surround Bella and go to attack her but ‘big kitten’ scares them away.
  • Bella enters a supermarket because she smells a cooked chicken. An employee chases her away but Bella knocks over several people and shelves in the mayhem.
  • Wolves again chase Bella and this time attack her. There are four of them and it seems as if Bella won’t survive but ‘big kitten’, who is by now a fully-grown cougar, arrives in time and frightens the wolves away. This is quite an intense scene.
  • Bella tries to cross a busy highway and is hit by a car.

Material that may scare or disturb children

Under fiveinfo

Children under five are most likely to be frightened by scary visual images, such as monsters, physical transformations.

In addition to the above-mentioned violent scenes, there are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children under the age of five, including the following:

  • The dogcatchers look quite frightening, searching under the building with torches.
  • Bella is very distressed when they take her mother away and cries, as does her mother.
  • Some wolves appear and chase Bella – they look mean and frightening.
  • The cougar is quite frightening when she growls fiercely at the wolves.
  • When the car hits Bella, she gets up and limps away on 3 legs. She has blood on her coat.

Aged five to eightinfo

Children aged five to eight will also be frightened by scary visual images and will also be disturbed by depictions of the death of a parent, a child abandoned or separated from parents, children or animals being hurt or threatened and / or natural disasters.

In addition to the above-mentioned violent scenes and scary visual images, there are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children aged five to eight, including the following:

  • Terri attends a therapy group with several other vets who are seen with various injuries and some in wheelchairs. Bella is allowed to visit these people and provides great comfort to them.
  • Chuck captures Bella with a restraint and takes her away in a caged van. She’s locked in a kennel, by herself, with lots of other dogs in the building, who all bark and are obviously distressed. Bella tries her best to be a ‘good dog’ so they will let her out.
  • Bella is heartbroken when she’s taken from Lucas and put in a cage to be driven to New Mexico.
  • On her journey home, Bella hears a gunshot, which startles her. On investigation, she finds a dead cougar. She runs away when the hunters arrive with their rifles and they stop to take selfies of themselves with the dead cougar.
  • Bella discovers that the cougar had a kitten, which is now an orphan. Bella realises she must look after the ‘big kitten’ now like the mother cat did for her.
  • An avalanche occurs which buries a skier. Bella and the man’s dog ‘Dutch’ dig him out and save his life. The man is taken to hospital and Bella and Dutch are taken home by a couple of other skiers. When the man recovers, they take the dogs to see him, but he doesn’t remember much and doesn’t want anything to do with his dog Dutch. Dutch is very sad.
  • Bella is adopted by a homeless man, Axel, who keeps her tied up all the time. Bella doesn’t like this but she knows Axel needs her. He feeds her and looks after her, but Bella can feel him becoming more depressed. He takes Bella to a lake, where he chains her to him, then lies down and dies. Bella, of course, can’t get away and gets very hungry and thirsty. She’s there for sometime until some young boys find her, lying on the ground, and release her. Of course, the boys are terrified when they see Axel’s body.

Aged eight to thirteeninfo

Children aged eight to thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic threats and dangers, violence or threat of violence and / or stories in which children are hurt or threatened.

In addition to the above-mentioned violent scenes, there are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children aged eight to thirteen, including the following:

  • Lucas is told that if Bella gets caught on the streets again, she will be euthanised.

Over thirteeninfo

Children over the age of thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic physical harm or threats, molestation or sexual assault and / or threats from aliens or the occult.

  • Ok for this age group.

Product placement

There was no product placement noted in this film.

Sexual references

There are some sexual references in this movie, including:

  • Olivia says jokingly that Lucas ‘isn’t hot’.
  • Some affection is shown between Olivia and Lucas and also between the two male skiers.

Nudity and sexual activity

There is some nudity and sexual activity in this movie, including:

  • Lucas and Olivia are seen in bed together (there is a wedding photo by the bed so they are obviously now married).

Use of substances

There is some use of substances in this movie, including:

  • Some drinking of wine and beer.

Coarse language

There is some mild coarse language in this movie, including:

  • Oh my God
  • Some name calling such as: moron and crazy

In a nutshell

A Dog’s Way Home is a wonderful adventure story of Bella’s journey, which has both very sad and very happy moments. It is very moving to see the relationship between Bella and the mother cat, Bella and Lucas and Bella and the ‘big kitten’. It does have a happy outcome but due to the intense scenes, including scenes of a dead man and an animal, it is not recommended for very young children, and parental guidance is recommended for children over 5.

The main messages from this movie are that the bonds between dogs and their humans are very strong and that dogs are very good therapy for those with emotional and physical needs.

Values in this movie that parents may wish to reinforce with their children include:

  • Courage
  • Perseverance
  • Heroism
  • Care and concern for others.

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