Dusty: Something doesn’t smell right. I haven’t seen this movie in way too long. Much longer than it should have been. Something’s really wrong.
Director: Duwayne Dunham
Writers: Sheila Burnford, Caroline Thompson, Linda Wolverton
Stars: Michael J. Fox, Sally Field, Don Ameche, Ben, Rattler, Tiki
Release Date: February 3, 1993 (United States)
Run time: 1 hour, 25 minutes
Chance, a selfish and free-spirited American Bulldog and the narrator of the film, explains that he is the pet of Jamie Burnford, but expresses no interest in his owner or being part of a family. He shares his home with Shadow, a wise old Golden Retriever owned by Jamie’s brother Peter, and Sassy, a pampered Himalayan cat owned by Peter and Jamie’s sister Hope. That morning, the children’s mother, Laura Burnford, marries Bob Seaver, and Chance causes trouble by devouring the wedding cake in front of all the guests.
Shortly after the wedding, the family has to temporarily move to San Francisco because Bob must relocate there for his job. They leave the pets at a ranch belonging to Kate, Laura’s college friend. Shadow and Sassy miss their owners immediately, but Chance sees it as an opportunity to relax and be free. Later in the week, Kate goes on a cattle drive, leaving the animals to be looked after by her neighbor Frank. However, half of her message to him is lost, leading him to believe that she has taken them along, leaving the animals alone. Unsure about the disappearance of their host, the animals fear they have been abandoned. Shadow, refusing to believe that his boy would leave him, decides to make his way home. Not wanting to be left alone on the ranch, Chance and Sassy decide to accompany Shadow on his journey.
They head into the rocky, mountainous wilderness of the Sierra Nevada with Shadow leading. After a night spent in fear of the woodland noises, the group stops to catch breakfast at a river. However, two black bear cubs interrupt Chance and a large brown bear causes the group to retreat. At another river, Sassy refuses to swim across to follow the dogs and instead tries to cross via a wooden path further downstream; halfway across, the wood breaks and she falls into the river. Shadow tries to save her, but she goes over a waterfall to her apparent death. Guilt-ridden, Shadow and Chance go on without her. Unknown to them, Sassy survives and is later found on the riverbank by an old man named Quentin, who nurses her back to health.
Over the next two days, Shadow and Chance try unsuccessfully to catch food and encounter a mountain lion, which chases them to the edge of a cliff. Shadow gets an idea to use rocks positioned like a seesaw as a way to outsmart the mountain lion. While Shadow acts as bait, Chance pounces onto the end of the rock and sends the mountain lion over the cliff and into a river. Sassy hears the dogs barking in celebration and follows the sound to rejoin them.
The animals continue on their way, but Chance begins pestering a porcupine, ending up with a load of quills in his muzzle. The animals then encounter a little girl named Molly, who is lost in the woods. Loyalty instinct takes over and they stand guard over her during the night. In the morning, Shadow finds a rescue party and leads them back to the girl. They recognize the animals from a missing pets flyer and take them to the local animal shelter, but Chance mistakes it for an animal pound and the trio panic. As the medical staff remove the quills from Chance’s muzzle, Sassy sneaks in and frees Shadow. Together, they retrieve Chance and escape the shelter, unaware that their owners are on their way to get them.
Finally reaching their hometown, the animals cross through a train yard, where Shadow falls into a muddy pit and injures his leg. Despondent, he tells Chance and Sassy to go on without him, and when Chance argues passionately, tells the younger dog he’s learned all he needs; “Now all you have to learn is how to say goodbye.” Heartbroken, Chance insists he won’t let him give up. Near dusk, Chance and Sassy finally make it home and are happily reunited with their owners. Shadow initially fails to appear, but eventually he limps into view and happily comes running home at the sight of Peter. Chance narrates how it was Shadow’s belief that brought them home and how the years seemed to lift off of him, making him a puppy again as he reunited with his boy. The film ends with Chance musing about how he truly feels “home” with his family, before happily running into the house at the smell of food.
Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey is a 1993 American adventure comedy film and a remake of the 1963 film The Incredible Journey, which was based on the 1961 novel of the same name by Sheila Burnford.
I decided to revisit a trauma from thirty years ago (long ago I saw this movie, but I haven’t read the novel nor have I seen the original adaptation) and… I’m totally fine. In a completely calm and neutral manner, let’s discuss the rating of this movie – “G.” That’s right. Someone thinks that this movie is totally appropriate for even small children. Is your kindergartener ready to deal with a story about a beloved dog facing off with wild animals that want to kill it? Is your little girl mentally mature enough to face a scene where a Himalayan housecat falls over the edge of a waterfall to its apparent death (complete with the dogs wishing her a sad good-bye)? Should small kids watch a scene where a little girl is lost in the woods, alone, at night, crying for her family? Hollywood thinks so. But if you want to know for yourself whether this is truly a G-rated movie, or not, go whisper to someone in their late 30s or early 40s the following:
“Shadow didn’t make it. He was too old.”
When they screw up their face, fighting back the tears from the prod you just dealt to a deep emotional wound that never fully healed, you’ll know. You’ll see it. This movie should have been Rated-R… err, PG.
Setting the trauma aside, it’s a great movie. Who doesn’t love talking pets? All of the voice actors were fantastic. Michael J. Fox had tremendous “young pup” energy, Sally Field sounded exactly how you’d expect a housecat to sound, and Dom Ameche was a pitch perfect faithful, loyal, true, old, mentoring Golden Retriever.
The idea of a pet, or a group of pets, traveling a tremendous distance to return home to their owner might seem impossible, but it does happen (though I suspect they usually do not catapult a mountain lion off of a cliff, or rescue a lost child from the woods in the process.) Does knowing that this type of thing is possible help the audience with their own incredible emotional journey during the film’s eighty-five minute runtime? That is another question.
The story is extremely funny, inspirational, and heart-warming (at least it warms your heart after ripping it out first.) A rambunctious bulldog named Chance learns the value of loyalty, friendship, family, and home. A new step-father learns what it means to be a dad. The film score’s use of music that sounds like it woudl be comfortable in a 1950s or 1960s western will evoke in your subconscious memories of your dad or grandpa. You’ll laugh. You’ll worry. You’ll celebrate. You might need therapy after.
Some of my favorite lines from the film are below:
Chance: [running away from the turkey after he tries to scare the hens] Ah! It’s Birdzilla! I swear I’ll never eat a McNugget again!
Chance: I’m such a wimp! I’m running from a cat!
Shadow: I won’t tell if you won’t.
Chance: Of course, this isn’t your ordinary housecat. This is like Arnold Schwarzen-kitty!
[Chance has just gotten attacked by a porcupine]
Chance: Ah! He bit me with his butt!
Shadow: [after Sassy is lost in the river] I shouldn’t have made her come.
Chance: It’s not your fault, she wanted to come.
Shadow: But it’s my responsibility. I had a responsibility to Sassy – to love her and protect her – the same as I have to you… and to Peter. And the same as you have to Jamie.
Chance: But we didn’t ask for this job.
Shadow: We didn’t have to. It’s built in. Has been ever since the dawn of time… when a few wild dogs took it upon themselves to watch over man, to bark when he’s in danger, to run and play with him when he’s happy, to nuzzle him when he’s lonely. That’s why they call us man’s best friend.
Chance: [narrating] Looking at him that night, he seemed so wise… and ancient, like the first dog who ever walked the earth. I just hope that one day, I can be like him.
Probably shouldn’t have finished with that last quote. Dusty made it to the end of the movie. Dusty wasn’t too old. Dusty’s fine. On the whole, this is a great movie. In my opinion, it is a little bit too intense for the very young, so I disagree with the G rating, but for everyone else, assuming you don’t mind crying, I recommend it.
4 thoughts on “Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey (1993)”
Must re-watch this!! Ty
I can confirm that it still tugs the heart strings, even if it’s been several years since you’ve seen it.
Logically I would like to be a person who thinks that we shouldn’t care about animals until all the human problems are fixed. But emotions. It’s such a gut-punch.
There’s something about the purity of animals (or at least, we perceive that purity to be there) that moves us emotionally.
That said, I think Disney in particular has been cultivating animal-harm emotional trauma entertainment for most of the last century. I don’t have a clear sense of what the human / dog dynamic was like prior to that. Pretty much every older American was traumatized by Old Yeller and Where the Red Fern Grows. I suppose I should be grateful that this movie did not end with the pets all having rabies and the oldest kid asking his stepdad if he can be the one to put them down.
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