Having appeared in and directed a number of films involving animals — including helming the 2 hit Dolphin Tale movies — Charles Martin Smith, director of Columbia Pictures’ heartwarming tale A Dog’s Way Home, admits to being enthralled with the genre.
“I’m probably the only director in the business that actually prefers working with kids and animals,” says Smith with a laugh. “I’m fascinated by making movies about animals, nature, and wilderness, and A Dog’s Way Home combines them in a way that’s very exciting for me. When I was a young man acting in Never Cry Wolf, the director of that film, Carroll Ballard, taught me so much about working in nature and working with animals and understanding how to capture that on film. I try to carry that forward in the films that I make now.”
Based on the bestselling novel by the beloved author of A Dog’s Purpose, A Dog’s Way Home is an emotionally charged and uplifting spiritual odyssey that follows the adventure of Bella (voiced by Bryce Dallas Howard), a dog who embarks on an epic 400-mile journey home after she is separated from her beloved human, Lucas (played Jonah Hauer-King), an aspiring med student and VA hospital volunteer. Bella touches the lives of many during her unwavering quest; from an orphaned mountain lion cub to a homeless veteran down on his luck, Bella brings joy and comfort to everyone she meets with her unique spirit and faith.
“The thing about animals as opposed to human actors is that animals will always be honest,” Smith says. “You’ll never get a false moment out of an animal; there’s an innocence and purity about them as characters in film that I find endlessly interesting.”
Joining Smith in the big-screen retelling of Bella’s journey is Ashley Judd, who previously worked with the director on two other beloved films about an animal: Dolphin Tale and its sequel.
“Charles Martin Smith is the director of the movie and we made two Dolphin Tale movies together,” said Judd in an interview with Parade. “I knew that in his capable hands the movie would be very touching, very inspirational but also very grounded and authentic. I love that the movie deals with big social themes, such as veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), with homelessness, and our family of choice — the people with whom we choose to spend our lives.”
In the film, Judd plays Terri, a veteran affected by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and finds that having Bella in her home is able to give her considerable relief. “As someone who has had service animals, I’m very familiar with the way that these animals are of extraordinary benefit to their humans,” says Judd. “When Terri has [PTSD] episodes, Bella recognizes that, and she’s there to put her chin on Terri’s leg, to comfort her, and to help bring her back to the present moment, to get her back into her body, and out of being stuck in the past traumatic event that happened when she was in the U.S. military.”
“A Dog’s Way Home is a break from the world in which we’re living today,” concludes Judd. “It’s a reminder that we all have really deep needs for connection, belonging, purpose… and those needs are reflected in the movie through Bella’s journey.”
In Philippine cinemas February 6, A Dog’s Way Home is distributed by Columbia Pictures, local office of Sony Pictures Releasing International. Use the hashtag #ADogsWayHome