“A Dog’s Journey” is the story of a dog’s spirit as it moves from dog to dog with but one purpose: to protect a little girl. It is the follow-up to 2017’s “A Dog’s Purpose.”
Toby (Josh Gad), a devoted but elderly St. Bernard/Australian shepherd mix, lives happily as Bailey with his owner Ethan (Dennis Quaid), his wife Hannah (Marg Helgenberger), their 2-year-old granddaughter Clarity June “CJ” (Emma Volk) and her mother Gloria (Betty Gilpin). Bailey, communicating with the audience via his thoughts, loves CJ.
Gloria is a neglectful mother with a hatred for dogs, as well as a dysfunctional relationship with her dead boyfriend, Henry’s, parents, Hannah and Ethan. She eventually moves out with a confused CJ. Soon after, Ethan discovers a malignant lump in Bailey’s stomach and the vet has to put him down. Ethan holds Bailey lovingly and tells him to take care of C.J. Toby, now dead as Bailey, is then seen running through a grassy field towards young CJ.
Toby is now a female beagle named Molly living at an animal shelter. She sees a young boy named Trent (Ian Chen) and his family adopt her brother, Rocky. She also sees a young girl with him, whom she recognizes as a 9-year-old CJ (Abby Ryder Forston). Molly, remembering her promise to Ethan, runs outside to CJ, who is now living in an apartment with Gloria. CJ takes the lovable pup home and hides her from her mother but Gloria eventually sees Molly and argues with CJ for getting a dog behind her back. Even so, CJ persuades her mother to let her keep the dog to keep her company as Gloria goes out with her “new boyfriend of the month,” leaving CJ alone in the apartment.
Over time, CJ and Molly grow increasingly close, along with Trent and Rocky. CJ, now a teenager (Kathryn Prescott), tells Trent (Henry Lau) of her dream to drop out of high school and go to New York to persue music. She will use her father’s insurance settlement . While CJ is busy, Hannah and Ethan visit Gloria’s home with a box of Henry’s old belongings, wanting to see CJ. Gloria closes the door on them, but not before Molly takes a liking to Ethan, and he recognizes her as Bailey and reminds her to protect CJ.
CJ befriends a thug named Shane, from whom Molly tries to protect CJ. Shane invites her to a party, which gets busted by police for underage drinking. CJ is then sentenced to community service at a facility that teaches dogs how to diagnose cancer with their sense of smell, and Molly learns this new skill.
Shane is physically abusive towards CJ. When CJ confronts Gloria for her father’s insurance money, Gloria’s nonchalant response and revelation that she has spent the money provokes CJ to leave with Molly. While driving, she discovers Shane is following her, and, in trying to avoid him, gets in an accident that kills Molly. Molly joins Bailey and Toby in the grassy field of Heaven.
Big Dog, a mastiff, is the next to enter CJ’s life. He lives with Joe the owner of a gas station on CJ’s journey to New York. He recognizes her immediately but must let her go and lives the rest of his life misssing her as she continues her journey to live her dream.
Toby, once again reincarnated, this time as a Yorkshire terrier named Max, is up for adoption at a shelter in New York. He bites every person who shows interest in adopting him at an event in the park, until he sees CJ and chases her all the way to her apartment complex. CJ is reluctant to keep Max, but she learns he will be sent to a pound. CJ, living with her boyfriend and working as a dog walker while building her music career, adopts Max, who befriends her boyfriend’s dog.
Max eventually discovers that an adult Trent has moved into their apartment complex with his girlfriend. Max, sensing that CJ and Trent have feelings for each other, destroys CJ’s relationship with her boyfriend, causing them to break up and for her to move out of his apartment and in with Trent.
Max remembers learning what cancer smells like back during Molly’s life, and informs CJ that he smells cancer on Trent. Max is right, and Trent begins chemotherapy. His girlfriend leaves him, leaving CJ as his primary caretaker. Eventually, Trent’s doctor informs him that he is cancer-free.
After many years, Gloria visits CJ. She has the box of her father’s belongings that her grandmother and grandfather left on the porch those many years ago. Will CJ and Gloria be able to reconcile? Can Gloria ever heal the breach with her parents? How will her father’s memory box help CJ jumpstart her music career? And what of Trent?
Led by the wit and wisdom of the adorable Max, we follow CJ as her journey continues filled with joys and pitfalls always accompanied by her canine guardian angel.
“A Dog’s Journey” is rated PG for thematic content, some peril and rude humor.