Wednesday, February 1, 2017

A Dog's Purpose - Book vs. Movie

Hi book fans!
(maybe you're a movie fan, you're welcome here too)

For the last year or so I've been blogging and vlogging discussions that compare books with their film adaptation. A Dog's Purpose is currently (as of 2/01/2017) ranked #2 in the NYT bestsellers list for paperback fiction.  The premise is a dog has several lives, he's reincarnated a few times and learns something new with each life that helps him fulfill the ultimate purpose. Here's a link to my book review of W. Bruce Cameron's A Dog's Purpose:

Also! The video version for this blog post:

Without further ado, here are my top changes! 

1. First life as a feral dog 
In the book and the movie, the dog's first life is lived as a feral mutt.  In the book, he learns from his feral mother to effectively survive off of garbage  from humans all while hiding from them.  Eventually though, the puppy, his mom and brother are all picked up by a family who hoards dogs. He's placed in a big fenced in yard with a whole bunch of other dogs.  The dog hoarder is eventually busted by the police and Toby, the name of the dog in that life, is euthanized by the dog catchers.  

In the movie, the first life was glossed over... like, a lot.  They show the puppy in this grassy area behind a building, playing with other puppies for 10 seconds and then being picked up by the dog catchers and he's on to the next life.  I don't mind that the movie cut out a lot of the dog's first life as Toby, but I wish they'd included the part about him learning how to survive on the street because...

2. Usefulness of knowing how to live without people
In the dog's final life as Buddy, he uses the knowledge of hiding from people and picking through trash.  He does this in both the book and the movie, but the book kind of emphasized more how essential that skill was and how hard Bailey tried to hide from humans so he could keep trying to find Ethan. His intense effort to remain feral until he finds Ethan was a profound testament of his love and loyalty to Ethan

So let's talk about Ethan.  His antagonist is a little different from the book to the film.
3. Ethan's nemesis
In the book and the movie, Todd is a morally bankrupt arsonist. However, in the book he's so much more twisted.  From the time they're kids, Todd is pretty much Sid from a Toy Story [insert clip of Sid].  He blows up his sister's toys and Ethan's toys and anyone else's he can get a hold of.  He actually dognaps Bailey and tries to kill him but Todd's little sister helps Bailey escape.  Todd actually kills another neighbor's dog. He throws a rock through Ethan's window. He's a really twisted character, and Bailey senses something similar in Todd's emotions as he does in one of the criminals he's chasing when he's a she and a police dog named Ellie.
In the movie, Todds is clearly at odds with Ethan, but so is Ethan's dad and that's different. Ethan's parents fight in the book, and the dad eventually leaves, but it's WAY WORSE in the movie.  The dramatic domestic abuse scene where the father ultimately was added, and the movie makes it much clearer that Ethan's father has a debilitating alcohol addiction.

4. Let's Talk about Ethan and Bailey
Ethan + Bailey = LOVE

Bailey has SO MUCH love for Ethan. In the movie they added a few things, like Bailey escaping from the garage to be with Ethan, and the shenanigans with the coin collection.  In the book, Ethan takes Bailey and a horse and goes on an outdoor adventure by himself off his grandparent's farm, and he gets really, really, really lost.  The horse runs off and Bailey actually saves Ethan's life by keeping him warm at night, encouraging him to keep going, and eventually finding a footpath in the forest. It was really revealing about just how dedicated Bailey is to Ethan, to the point of doing literally anything for him.

5.  They changed the police officer's name from Jakob to Carlos.  Otherwise, he was pretty much the same, a young widower with a lonely, distant heart.

6 The first major change in Ellie's life as a police dog is how she died.  The film went for the huge, tearjerker move of having the dog get shot, dying in the arms of the police officer that she saved.  This didn't happen in the book.  In the book, the more unexpected thing happens. Ellie has the kidnapper literally in her clutches, Jakob orders her to release, and the kidnapper actually shoots  Jakob.  He survives the shooting, but he's unable to work with Ellie anymore.

#7 Tino! 
In the movie, this is where Ellie is reincarnated as Tino the adorable Corgi and becomes best friends with the introverted Maya.  In the book, Tino never happens!  Ellie continues to be Ellie. Truthfully, I very much preferred when Ellie remained Ellie for the rest of her natural life instead of becoming Tino. I think it helped with the story's pacing.  In the film, I felt like I was getting whiplash with all the dog deaths and all the dog lives.

#8 Maya! 
In the movie, Maya is a college student who keeps to herself, and eventually falls in love with Al.  In the book, Maya falls in love with Al too, but in the book Maya is actually a police officer who becomes Ellie's handler after Jakob is shot.  She has low self-confidence, and she worries about the physical demands of being a search and rescue officer on the K-9 team. Apparently it requires A LOT of running. Like, miles and miles. Because Ellie is one of the best search and rescue dogs the department's ever had, Maya feels compelled to keep going. Jakob claims that if you frequently change handlers on a dog it can be too confusing for them and ruin their ability to do search and rescue, so Maya feels like she can't let Ellie down. And Maya pulls through.  She and Ellie are a really great team.

#9 The Reveal That Buddy is the same dog as Bailey 
Buddy = Bailey 
The reveal in the movie that Buddy is Bailey was pretty cool.  But the book, frankly, did more with it.  And it seemed to me like a missed opportunity for the film.   In the film, the day after Ethan and Hannah's wedding, and Ethan throws the flat football and ducks and Buddy does the trick that Bailey always did.  Ethan was super excited when he realizes  it's his old dog, but there wasn't a clear point to the importance of the reveal that Buddy was the same dog as Bailey.

In the book, this all made more sense to me.  Ethan and Hannah are married, and after they're together for a few years, Ethan's home alone with Buddy and he has a stroke.  In his confusion from the stroke, Ethan starts calling Buddy Bailey.  Bailey goes and gets the fetch toy, called the flip, that they played with when Ethan was a kid.  Bailey tries really heard to keep Ethan alert and comfort him, and the point of that reveal is that Ethan believes Bailey is there comforting him as he's dying from a stroke. Ethan's death is the whole buildup of the book ,and I was disappointed they took it out of the movie. It turns the typical  "the dog dies" trope and turns it on it's head.  The whole story is building up to Ethan's death, not Bailey's.

After Ethan dies, Bailey reflects that he knows his purpose was fulfilled.

10. A Dog's Purpose
The film ends with Buddy, Ethan and Hannah playing fetch on a farm. And the dog reflects that his purpose is to be in the moment. And appreciate each moment as it comes.  That' also a big part of the book, and I like that message because think hits on a bigger point of what makes dogs such great companions for people. Dogs help you be more mindful. But being in the moment wasn't the dog's purpose in the book. The dog reflects that his purpose was to save people.  And in his final life, the dog reflects that he can save people literally, like he did when he was Ellie, and the he saved Ethan from being alone.  He kind of saved Ethan from himself.  It's a different purpose in the book than the movie, being in the moment versus saving a human-sometimes literally, and then sometimes saving in terms of quality of life.  The purpose in the book kind of reminded me of those pro-rescue-adoption bumper stickers that say "who saved who?" and have a pawprint on them. 

So there were a few changes I liked in the film.  I liked the expanded development with Ethan and his dad. I really liked seeing Ethan and Hannah's relationship brought to life.  But overall, I have to say, the film missed key notes about what made the book so special.  I think adding Tino made the pacing feel rushed and off. And The whole culmination of the story being Bailey's love Ethan through Ethan's death is I think what sets the story apart from other "the dies at the end" kind of films. And I think the film missed that opportunity. So that's my comparison for A Dog's Purpose.  Did you see this film?  Did you read the book?  Let me know and thanks for reading!   

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