A Dog’s Way Home is an early contender for The Sniffler of 2019.
WTF’s a Sniffler?
A complementary, more complimentary designation related to “Tearjerker” that Write All Nite (hopefully) originated, because movies utilize sadness in two separate ways that shouldn’t be encompassed under the same adjectival umbrella.
Tearjerkers do as the word implies: they forcibly jerk tears from our eyes, often in transparently-manipulative moments specifically designed to do nothing but jerk. Snifflers, on the other hand, are a bit more restrained and graceful in their approach; they more broadly plumb the fundamental nature of sorrow, communicating some sort of universal truth about it, thus subsuming us more entirely in our feels — such explorations tend to incite prolonged choruses of sniffles from every corner of the auditorium. Tearjerkers elicit concentrated wailing at precise intervals, whereas Snifflers induce sustained sniffling throughout the duration. Both deploy misery in emotional warfare against our ducts, but Tearjerkers pull at the heartstrings in a concerted, focused manner, while Snifflers fully immerse us in the depths of despair.
It’s almost old hat to note that audiences will be more affected by canine suffering than the afflictions of their fellow humans, but I don’t think it’s simply due to the notion that no doggo deserves such pain. Rather, there’s a more intellectual root to our subsequent despondency: pups have no awareness of why they’re being subjected to such horrors. Since they possess insufficient capacity to understand the causal relationship between their misfortune and its source — at least, as far as we know — we’re left to imagine the wittle doggie helplessly struggling to comprehend their woe. For some reason, a creature being able to contextualize their tragedy makes us feel a little better about their conditions, whereas dogs are lost in the wilderness of unknown chaos, a most perilous, and thus pitiful state.
By giving voice to this confusion in dialogue — voiced by Bryce Dallas Howard, ranging from sincere to grating — A Dog’s Way Home steeps its tears more in sniffling thought than shameless jerking. There’s nothing in the movie as fascinatingly bizarre as the quasi-Christian reincarnation streak in A Dog’s Purpose — based on a book by the same author — but A Dog’s Way Home‘s pathos are more rooted in earned emotions, making it a more satisfying experience.