"Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey" (El Capitan), which stars two dogs and a cat, sounds like a throwback to old Disney, and in fact Uncle Walt made it the first time around 30 years ago. However, this variation on Sheila Burnford's 1960 novel improves vastly on the original, in which we watched three pets trek interminably through the rugged Canadian High Country in search of their masters accompanied only by cowboy star Rex Allen's off-screen narration. The animals were lovable, of course, but their incredible journey became incredibly dull.
Writers Caroline Thompson and Linda Woolverton have remedied this problem in two ways, by bringing their family into the story and by providing voices for the pets. Anthropomorphism on the screen is a painstaking art and craft, and "Homeward Bound" is a fine, heart-tugging example. Thompson and Woolverton have provided delightful personalities for Shadow, a wise and mature golden retriever; Chance, a frisky American bulldog puppy, and Sassy, a fastidious, weight-conscious Himalayan cat. Their voices are supplied, respectively, by none other than Don Ameche, Michael J. Fox and Sally Field.
The film opens in the High Sierra--annoyingly, the film is hazy on geography and other details. Bob (Robert Hays) and Laura (Kim Greist) have just married, bringing together pets and children from previous marriages. Since Bob, a professor of some sort, has a temporary gig in San Francisco, the family closes up its nice old home in the Sierra and leaves the pets with a friend (Jean Smart). After some credible glitches, the homesick Shadow, Chance and Sassy escape and commence their adventure-filled odyssey.
Director Duwayne Dunham effectively crosscuts between the animals and the worried family in San Francisco. The result is that on one level the film is about three children--well-played by Benj Thall, Kevin Chevalia and Veronica Lauren--whose adjustment to a new family arrangement in a new place is made more challenging by their awareness that they may never again see their beloved pets; on another level, it's a pure adventure for the animals.
The writers have been especially deft with the animal sequences, allowing us to view the world from the pets' point of view from time to time and suggesting that, although the animals are all intelligent, there are some things that humans can know and they cannot. Animal trainer Joe Camp and his colleagues, in turn, have performed miracles with the many cats and dogs that play Shadow, Chance and Sassy.
Formerly an editor for David Lynch, who gave him a chance to direct three episodes of "Twin Peaks," Dunham acquits himself impressively in his feature debut, blending fantasy and reality seamlessly and melding effectively his on-screen actors with his off-screen cast. "Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey" (rated G) is that rare family film that really ought to please the entire family.
The Incredible Journey'
Robert Hays: Bob
Kim Greist: Laura
Veronica Lauren: Hope
Kevin Chevalia: Jamie
A Buena Vista release of a Walt Disney Pictures presentation in association with Touchwood Pacific Partners I. Director Duwayne Dunham. Producers Franklin R. Levy, Jeffrey Chernov. Executive producers Donald W. Ernst. Screenplay by Caroline Thompson, Linda Woolverton; based on "The Incredible Journey" by Sheila Burnford. Cinematographer Reed Smoot. Editor Jonathan P. Shaw. Costumes Karen Patch. Music Bruce Broughton. Production design Roger Cain. Art director Daniel Self. Set decorator Nina Bradford. Sound Bayard Carey. Running time: 1 hour, 24 minutes.
MPAA-rated G (general audiences).