Growing up, my sister despised movies and books. In order to convince her to watch a movie or read a book I liked, I had to find something that sparked her interest. Because of her fascination with dogs, anything featuring man’s best friend captured her attention. One film we both really enjoyed was the 1993 film Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey, directed by Duwayne Dunham and based on the book The Incredible Journey. Both the movie and book are bound to appeal to young animal lovers.
The Story: The Burnford family owns three animals: a geriatric golden retriever named Shadow, an aptly named cat named Sassy and a youthful bulldog named Chance. While Shadow and Sassy fancy their domesticated life, Chance yearns for a more exciting alternative. When the Burnfords takes a short trip to San Francisco, they leave the pets in the care of a family friend who lives on a rural ranch. Due to a misunderstanding, the furry trio believes they were abandoned and try to find their way home by navigating through the treacherous wilds — encountering obstacles including bears, mountain lions and raging rivers.
Why It’s a Good Family Movie: A lot of contemporary films featuring animals are either animated (The Secret Life of Pets) or live-action, but use CGI animals rather than the real deal (such as this year’s The Call of the Wild). While it is admittedly incredibly difficult to train animals for film, and some films that use digitally rendered animals are actually quite good, there’s something to say about the authenticity of Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey. Every dog is real and was trained to “star” in this film. Due to technical restraints of the time, the pet trio appear to be telepathic — they talk and understand one another without moving their mouths. While jarring at first, it quickly becomes easy to buy into this because of the great vocal performances and animal training. The late Don Ameche perfectly captures the sage wisdom of Shadow, and Sally Field does a great job providing the amusing, witty discourse of Sassy. Michael J. Fox is a particular standout, bringing a youthful, energetic spirit to Chance that perfectly encapsulates how I’d imagine a puppy speaking.
Additionally, the film is a nice segue into the pulpy adventure genre for young children. While classic adventure films like Indiana Jones, The Princess Bride and Jurassic Park are great choices for slightly older kids, their gore and violence may be too much for younger or more sensitive children. This film features classic adventure scenes, like escaping from scary animals and wading through dangerous rivers. However, they are toned down and interspersed with humorous banter from the animals, which makes them seem much less threatening.
One of the major themes of this film is the importance of family. Chance learns how important both his human family and his animal buddies are by the end of the movie. Although the characters have disagreements, they realize how much they need each other in the face of adversity.
Age Recommendation: There are numerous scenes of peril throughout the film. The wild animals the trio encounters might be scary for smaller children. Two instances where characters are presumed to have died are intense, but the film later reveals that those characters have miraculously survived. One character gets attacked by a porcupine and has the quills removed in a scene that’s painful to watch. There is also a good amount of potty humor, and more adult prison jokes in one scene. I would recommend this movie for ages 5 and up.
Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey is streaming on Disney+ and is available to rent or purchase on iTunes and Amazon