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Movie Review

Bella is a mixed breed stray. A mutt.

Of course, she doesn't know that. She doesn't know what any of that means. She doesn't even know that her name is Bella. Yet. She just knows life as a carefree puppy among a group of other stray dogs and cats huddled together under a condemned piece of property.

Soon, though, Bella learns about fear.

Humans show up and drag away her mother and most of the other animals living under the crumbling building's foundation. They're rough and mean. They have sticks with ropes, and cages. She and a mother cat barely elude their grasp.

Then Bella learns about love.

Lucas is the next human Bella meets. He is good and kind. He's perfect. He rescues her, gives her food and a home. Lucas gives her a name. And he gives her human games, too. She really loves "Get the ball!" and "Don't chew shoes!" "Get up on the bed!" is always a good one, too. And her most, most favorite game of all is, "Do you want a little bit of cheese?" When Lucas plays that game, it makes Bella all warm inside.

Yes, life is so, so good.

It's not perfect, though. A human called an "animal control officer" wants to take Bella away. It means nothing to her, but this mean man has classified Bella as a pit bull, a breed that's banned in Denver, where Lucas and Bella live.

To keep Bella, Lucas (who lives with his veteran mom, Terri, who suffers from PTSD) has no other choice but to send his beloved dog to a friend's house for a while. In faraway Farmington, New Mexico.

Of course, that strange journey south makes no sense to Bella at all. All she understands is how she dearly misses her beloved Lucas once he leaves her there. She misses his smell and his fun human games.

Oh, how she longs to play "Get the ball!" and "Don't chew shoes!" with him again. And she can't stop thinking about the game "Go home!" that they used to play whenever danger was nearby. She misses it all so, so, so much. And Lucas. Always Lucas.

So there's really no other choice: Bella has to go home. It doesn't matter that mountains, as well as hundreds of miles of wilderness are between here and there. She doesn't care that snarling beasts live in those forests.

She misses Lucas. She simply has to go … home!

Positive Elements

The central lesson of this story focuses on love. And in a sense, the kind of love we see expressed here always centers around caring for the weak and adopting them into your "family."

For example, after animal control officers grab Bella's mom, a mother cat begins caring for the orphaned and bewildered pup, even feeding Bella right alongside her own kittens. Bella thereafter considers the cat her adoptive mother.

In turn, Bella "adopts" other needy animals she crosses paths with. When she stumbles upon a dead cougar, she starts caring for and protecting the mountain cat's "Big Kitten" cub. She comforts and bonds with a dog that seemingly has lost its human owner. And she always thinks in terms of family. Even while on her journey home, her temporary connections with humans and other animals are family-like connections (though that tie with her beloved Lucas always rules supreme). She repeatedly talks of various animals finding "their people."

We definitely see that same kind of caring, extended-family structure in the human world, too. Lucas lets his emotionally traumatized, PSTD-stricken mom live with him. And he works with other similarly afflicted vets at a local VA hospital. They all rally together to help one another in something of a family unit (a unit that Bella herself becomes a well-loved part of).

Spiritual Content

None.

Sexual Content

Two different women wear tops that reveal some cleavage. A couple that may or may not be married is shown in bed together. (She's wearing a nightgown.)

Bella is briefly adopted by two men who live together. We never see any physical affection between the two of them. But a couple of elements quietly imply that they're a couple, such as a picture of them dressed up together (that the camera very quickly pans past in their home) and the fact that one of them talks about "our" telephone number. Adults will likely recognize the implications of this apparently same-sex relationship, though that connection is still subtle enough that the nature of it may not be something children will notice.

Violent Content

As you might expect, there's a bit of sharp-toothed and painful violence in Bella's journey. She's attacked and left scraped and lightly bloodied by a pack of wolves. And she injures her leg after being thumped by a skidding car in a pile-up she causes on a freeway.

Bella also must delicately make her way across a slippery, ice-covered log spanning a deep and craggy ravine. A snowy avalanche nearly swallows her up. (And it does engulf a human hiker whom Bella helps to dig free; later on, we see the man wearing both arm and leg casts.) As mentioned, a wolf pack threatens Bella on a couple of occasions. A cougar attacks that pack, tackling and slashing at its members. We also see dead animals at different times, including a dirt- and leaf-covered deer carcass and a dead mountain lion shot by human poachers (offscreen).

Bella also encounters some human threats. She hears the gunfire of hunters. Mean animal control officers repeatedly try to grab the doggy hero. At one point, they capture her and roughly cart her away. Lucas is told that if she's ever caught again off of his property, she'll be legally "euthanized."

Elsewhere, Bella's caught and kept by a homeless man who users her puppy-dog appeal to stir up sympathy in passers-by. He chains the dog to his own waist. And when the man finally perishes in the cold after years of self-abuse and exposure to the elements, Bella is trapped by that chain and nearly dies herself because she has no access to food or water (until she's eventually rescued).

All in all, those dangers lend a sense of mild peril to the story at times, one that might be a bit on the intense side for young or sensitive viewers.

Crude or Profane Language

Someone calls another person a "moron." We hear one use of "oh my gosh" as well as what might be the unfinished beginnings of an s-word when a man is hit by an avalanche of snow. (We hear just the barest hint of that word's initial pronunciation.) Bella names one of the dogs she meets on her journey Shaggy Butt.

Drug and Alcohol Content

A couple of guys drink glasses of wine.

Other Negative Elements

To survive, Bella steals food from human picnickers, fishermen and a supermarket. (That said, these scenes are all played for humor, and we're obviously invited to side with the starving animal with regard to these mischievous "thefts.")

A disgruntled property owner lightly threatens Lucas and his mom and ultimately takes action to make their lives difficult. (The movie clearly paints this angry man as a villain.)

Conclusion

Bella's story, narrated sweetly from the protagonist pup's perspective by actress Bryce Dallas Howard, is an engaging and heartfelt wilderness tale. The human-like doggy hero at this family film's core is easy to care about and root for.

In fact, because of Bella's anthropomorphized perspective, young viewers could potentially walk away thinking about a number of very human values in their own lives. Those include the loving bonds of family, the importance of good friends, and the necessity of caring for the wounded and needy around us.

Fair warning though: All those charmingly forged ties also mean that Bella's moments of movie peril and loss can land with an unexpected emotional thump. Young brows could easily furrow and tears may flow, if only briefly. (And though handled with a very light touch, the film may also subtly depict a same-sex relationship and a cohabiting one, issues that parents will want to be aware of ahead of time.)

There's no denying, though, that Bella is indeed a good dog. And her story here is a good one as well—ending like a warm, fur-ruffling nap on the couch after a brisk winter's trek.

Perhaps, like Bella, your family may need a journey "home," with home being a sense of enjoyment and togetherness while being with each other. If that is the case, check out these ideas for a path leading home:

A Family's Unexpected Togetherness in the Wilderness

Cultivating Family Togetherness

Fun Family Faith Activities

The One Year Classic Family Devotions

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles

Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

Credits

Rating

Readability Age Range

Author

Cast

Voice of Bryce Dallas Howard as Bella; Jonah Hauer-King as Lucas; Ashley Judd as Terri; Alexandra Shipp as Olivia; John Cassini as Animal Control Officer Chuck

Director

Charles Martin Smith ( )

Distributor

Columbia Pictures

Network

Performance

Record Label

Platform

Publisher

In Theaters

January 11, 2019

On Video

April 9, 2019

Year Published

Awards

Reviewer

Bob Hoose

Content Caution

Kids
Teens
Adults
We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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