When a trio of pets are left behind at a friend’s ranch while their family goes on vacation, they embark on a journey across the mountains together to find their way home.
When their story begins, the animals’ personalities are very clearly established. Shadow is a wise golden retriever who is devoted to his master, Peter. Chance is an impetuous, young bulldog who favors independence and having fun over being with his family. And Sassy is a beautiful Himalayan cat with a penchant for believing she is superior…especially where Shadow and Chance are concerned.
When the animals embark on their journey home the dynamic between them begins to shift. While Shadow remains the wise and experienced leader who is determined to get them home, he also takes on the role of protector to Sassy and Chance. When Sassy falls into a dangerous river, it is Shadow who follows her into the churning water and tries to rescue her. And when the animals find a little girl lost in the woods, they spend the night watching over her, and it is Shadow who reunites the child with her family.
While Sassy maintains her superior attitude in the beginning (especially towards Chance), as the animals’ journey brings them ever closer to home, the audience begins to witness a transformation in Sassy’s character. When she is reunited with Shadow and Chance after being lost in the river, her superior attitude has softened into genuine affection for them. When the animals are taken to a shelter after rescuing a little girl from the woods, Sassy manages to escape, but rather than fleeing, she bravely returns to rescue Shadow and Chance. In the end, Sassy and Chance are there to comfort Shadow when he falls into the pit and although it is not shown in the film, I believe their love is what gives Shadow the strength to make the rest of the journey home.
The final moment of the transformation between Shadow and Chance occurs right before the animals are reunited with their family. Throughout the entire journey, Shadow had been their leader; the brave and noble hero who never once wavered in his desire to go home. When Shadow falls into a pit, this moment is significant for two reasons. For Shadow, this moment is significant because this is the moment when his resolve is broken. Although he tries his best to escape, his age and his broken body overshadows his resolve and he starts to give up. For Chance, this moment is significant because after everything he has been through with Shadow, he realizes just how much his friendship with Shadow means to him. Because of this, he is unwilling to let Shadow give up when they are so close to the end of their journey, even if it means carrying his friend the rest of the way home.
One of the most vivid memories of my childhood is watching this movie with my father and crying on his shoulder at the end of it every single time I watched it. Time has not diminished the emotional hold that this movie has over me in the least. If anything, watching this film as an adult only makes the emotions that much stronger because now the emotions are not only felt, but they are also understood. If you enjoy revisiting your childhood by watching nostalgic films, then this is one that I would HIGHLY recommend.