Like most of the humans who are going to flip for Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey, I’m too young to have seen The Incredible Journey, the 1963 movie that this new film is based on. And also like most of those little humans, I don’t really care if the earlier one is better. Kids and dogs don’t get nostalgic for anything much farther back than breakfast.
Besides, if you’ve ever lived with an animal (or, like me, are one) you’ll be a sucker for this movie. The story — about a stalwart trio of dog, cat, and dog who cross the Sierra Nevadas to rejoin their beloved human family — is timeless, and it is filmed with a good eye for the natural beauties of the wilderness.
It should be noted, however, that the movie critic I live with harumphed through much of Homeward Bound, griping about its ”crass, cutesy anthropomorphism” (although I bet he’d try it himself if he thought he could get away with it). I think the voice-over gimmick bugged him; unlike the original Incredible Journey, the new movie lets Chance the bulldog pup, Sassy the cat, and Shadow the golden retriever talk to one another in the voices of three famous actors named Fox, Field, and Ameche. Well, talk isn’t quite the right word — they sort of think at each other in a way that humans can’t hear.
Well, excuse me, but do you suppose this doesn’t actually happen, after a fashion? What do you think all the butt sniffing’s about? Okay, I admit that some of the words emanating from my fellow quadrupeds in this movie are inane: ”I’m so sick of nature I could puke,” says Chance at one point. Har-de-har-har. And some of the situations are too cartoonlike even for a studio that was built on cartoons: A seesaw bit with a mountain lion is straight out of a Road Runner short. But having suffered with my human through the dim-witted Beethoven and the dreadful Bingo — in which dogs drive cars, for pete’s sake — I found Homeward Bound to be a breath of animal-oriented realism, voice-overs or no. Even if the main characters are each played by several different animals (come on, Hollywood — do you think a dog doesn’t notice these things?).
If you were to ask my critic housemate, he’d probably give Homeward Bound a C, but I know the big schmaltzerama climax had him just as choked up as any child, adult, or beast in the audience. So roll over yourself, pal: This puppy says it’s a B.