Homeward Bound. The Incredible Journey of Lost Dogs Finding Their Way Back


Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey is a 1993 American adventure comedy film directed by Duwayne Dunham. It is a remake of the 1963 film The Incredible Journey, based on the novel of the same name by Sheila Burnford. The film follows the adventures of three pets – Chance, an American bulldog (played by Rattler), Shadow, a wise old golden retriever (voiced by Don Ameche), and Sassy, a Himalayan cat (voiced by Sally Field) – as they travel 300 miles through the Sierra Nevada mountains to find their family.

The film begins by introducing the three main animal characters and their owners, the Seaver family, who live together on a ranch. However, when the family goes on vacation and leaves the pets at a cattle ranch, Chance, Shadow and Sassy believe they have been abandoned. Determined to find their family again, the trio sets out on a long and perilous journey through the wilderness to get back home.

The Making of Homeward Bound

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. The film follows three pets (Chance, an American Bulldog, Shadow, a Golden Retriever, and Sassy, a Himalayan cat) as they travel across the wilderness to find their owners.

The remake was developed by producers Julia Roberts and Kathleen Kennedy. Roberts read and loved the 1963 novel as a child and felt it would make for a great family film. She approached Kennedy with the idea to remake it. The two felt that advancements in film technology and animal training would allow them to improve upon the original film. According to IMDb trivia, Roberts even contacted Burnford to get her blessing for the remake.

The screenplay was written by Caroline Thompson, known for her work on family films like Edward Scissorhands. Duwayne Dunham, who had never directed a feature film before, was hired to direct. Dunham wanted to make sure the animal actors were treated humanely, so the film had an on-set animal trainer to ensure proper care and safety.

The movie was filmed on location in the Sierra Nevada mountains near Lake Tahoe. The wilderness provided a picturesque backdrop and natural obstacles for the journey of the three pets. Principal photography took nearly 100 days to allow for working with the animals.

The Canine Stars

The canine stars that portrayed Shadow, Chance, and Sassy were integral to the film’s success. Ben played the part of Shadow, the wise old golden retriever. He was already well-trained when he was cast, having appeared in the TV show “In The Heat of the Night.” Ben quickly bonded with Robert Hays, the actor who played Peter, making their on-screen relationship authentic and emotional.

Chance was played by Rattler, a fun-loving American bulldog mix. Rattler was a shelter dog with no prior training, but animal trainer Gary Gero worked extensively with him before filming. Michael J. Fox said Rattler was “a great dog” who made his job easy by being so expressive and animated.

Tiki, a Huskador, took on the role of Sassy, perfectly portraying the saucy and cynical cat. She was adopted from a local shelter and underwent professional training for the film. According to the animal trainers, Tiki was incredibly smart and picked up direction very quickly. Her dynamic with Sally Field as Laura made for some of the most hilarious and heartwarming moments in the movie.

The three canine actors worked well together on set and developed a close bond, much like their on-screen characters. Their performances resonated with audiences and were pivotal to the film’s popularity. As director Duwayne Dunham stated, “If the animals weren’t good, we didn’t have a movie.” [1]

Critical Reception

When Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey was released in 1993, it received generally positive reviews from critics. The film holds a 69% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with the consensus reading, “The film has a good story, a good cast and good adventure. Homeward Bound is a good film that the entire family can enjoy. With a good cast, this film is worth watching.”

a dog looking out over a landscape as it tries to find its way home

Roger Ebert gave the film 3 out of 4 stars in his review, calling it “the movie was about a wise old dog and an impetuous young pup and a snotty cat. Their human owners are about to go to San Francisco on business, leaving the pets in the care of a friend who lives on a ranch many miles away.” He praised the animal performances and family-friendly nature of the film.

The movie has remained popular with families and animal lovers over the years since its release. Common Sense Media noted in 2023 that it was “Overall it was a good pick for a first-time full feature for a sensitive boy: tense but not too scary, with positive messages about family and sticking together.” The enduring appeal stems from its classic story, charismatic animal characters, and heartwarming themes about friendship and perseverance.

Impact and Legacy

Homeward Bound became an immediate box office success upon release. It grossed over $41 million during its theatrical run, making it one of the highest grossing G-rated films of the year (source: https://www.mutualart.com/Article/Homeward-Bound–Ukiyo-e–Japonisme–and-/EE098694340C54AD). The film’s popularity has endured over the years and it is still considered a beloved childhood classic by many.

Homeward Bound has had a lasting cultural influence and introduced many children to themes of friendship, loyalty, and perseverance. Quotes like “I would gladly walk beside you until my strength gives out” have become iconic (source: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/homeward-bound-culture-shock-caroline-tapken?trk=public_post). The film inspired a wave of merchandising, including plush toys of Chance, Shadow, and Sassy which became popular children’s toys in the 1990s.

The popularity of Homeward Bound led to the production of a sequel, Homeward Bound II: Lost in San Francisco, released in 1996. While not as successful as the original, the sequel still performed well at the box office and continues the themes of the first film (source: https://www.simonandschuster.com/books/Homeward-Bound/Emily-Matchar/9781451665451). Over 30 years later, Homeward Bound remains a touchstone family film with an enduring legacy.

Themes and Analysis

Homeward Bound explores several major themes that resonate with viewers. One central theme is the power of friendship and teamwork. The three animals – Shadow, Chance, and Sassy – must rely on each other to find their way home. Though they come from different backgrounds and have clashing personalities, they unite in their shared goal. Their devotion to one another allows them to persevere despite daunting obstacles. As Sassy says, “You’re my family. I’d do anything to help you get home.”

The film also examines the unique bond between humans and animals. Though the animals speak, they do not fully understand the ways of humans. Nevertheless, their unconditional love and loyalty persists. The animals experience grief when separated from their beloved owners. Chance remarks, “I miss Peter. I miss Jamie. I miss Hope.” This affirms the depth of attachment animals can feel. The movie suggests that with care and trust, humans and animals can forge profound connections.

Perseverance is another key theme. The animals encounter hunger, exhaustion, and danger on their trek. However, they press on, motivated by their determination to reunite with their family. Though they feel defeated at times, they regain spirit and continue their arduous journey. Their grit demonstrates how one’s inner willpower can overcome daunting external obstacles. The film shows that with faith and fortitude, ambitious goals are within reach.

Overall, Homeward Bound uses the framework of an animal fable to explore universal themes about companionship, loyalty, and perseverance. The anthropomorphic pets showcase human-like hopes, fears, and motivations. Their emotional journey resonates with viewers of all ages.

Filming Locations

Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey was filmed on location in the western United States, taking advantage of the area’s dramatic natural landscapes. Principal photography took place in Oregon, with the majority of the movie shot in the Deschutes National Forest and the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest near Bend and Enterprise, Oregon.

The filmmakers made use of the rugged mountain terrain, rivers, forests and open spaces of central and northeastern Oregon to depict the pets’ journey through the Sierra Nevada mountains. Scenic locations like Smith Rock State Park, the Metolius River and the Crooked River Gorge provided backdrops of sheer cliffs, winding rivers and dense forests. Aerial helicopter shots of the snow-capped Cascade Range were also used to establish the wilderness setting.

a group of dogs walking together through a forest on their journey back home

Filming on location enabled the use of panoramic vistas and outdoor cinematography to portray the epic scale and perilous nature of the animals’ journey. The sprawling natural landscapes heightened the sense of adventure as the pets traverse mountains, forests, rivers and canyons on their way home.

Memorable Quotes

Homeward Bound contains a number of memorable and quotable lines, many of them coming from the three main animal characters – Shadow the Golden Retriever, Chance the American Bulldog, and Sassy the Himalayan Cat. Some of the most famous quotes showcase the bonds of friendship and family between the animals as they embark on their journey.

One of Shadow’s most poignant lines comes after the river accident that leads the others to believe Sassy has died. He says regretfully, “I shouldn’t have made her come” (IMDb). This quote shows Shadow’s protective nature and his remorse over putting Sassy in danger.

There are also a number of inspirational and motivational quotes spoken by Shadow, who often encourages Chance to keep going on their journey. At one point he tells Chance: “You’ve learned everything you need, Chance. Now all you have to learn is how to say goodbye.” This underscores one of the major themes of appreciating relationships while you have them (Shadow’s IMDb Character Page).
a lost dog standing at a crossroads, uncertain which way leads home

The banter and bickering between Chance and Sassy leads to funny, memorable quotes as well. Their back-and-forth highlights their mismatched personalities as they learn to work together.

Behind the Scenes Trivia

Homeward Bound featured three main animal stars – Shadow, Chance, and Sassy. The animals were trained for their roles by renowned Hollywood animal trainer Karl Lewis Miller. According to IMDB trivia, Shadow’s limping scene after falling into a pit was achieved through clever editing. The dog actor never actually fell into a pit, but rather walked across some boards which broke under his steps [source].

The river crossing scene posed a unique challenge, as the dog playing Sassy refused to get in the water. The crew had to devise a way to make it appear as if she crossed the river by hopping along rocks and a log [source]. The film required the three animals to appear as if they were roaming through the Sierra Nevada mountains completely unassisted. In reality, the animals were accompanied by trainers throughout filming who used vocal commands and food rewards to guide the dogs’ actions.


Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey remains a beloved family film decades after its release due to its heartwarming story and emotional impact. Though it follows the familiar trope of pets going on an adventure, the movie transcends the genre by exploring themes of love, loyalty, courage, and the unbreakable bond between pets and their human families.

The film continues to resonate with audiences young and old because of how it tugs at our heartstrings. The pets’ dangerous trek through the wilderness reminds us that our animal companions will go to great lengths out of devotion for their families. We connect with Shadow’s uncertainty and Sassy’s sarcasm, but most of all, we root for Chance’s determination to find his boy Peter. Though faced with perilous rapids, bear attacks, and more, the three brave pets overcome every obstacle to make it home.

an emotional reunion between a dog and its owner after the dog's long journey home

While the movie has its lighthearted and comedic moments, it earns its emotional payoffs by showing us the depth of the bond between animals and humans. We laugh and cry alongside the characters, sharing in their joy and pain. In the end, when Shadow emerges over the hill to finally see Peter again, there is not a dry eye in the theater.

Homeward Bound’s bittersweet, heartwarming story about friendship, family, and determination is why after 30 years, it remains a classic that continues to capture the imaginations and emotions of audiences today. Its legacy lives on as one of the most iconic and impactful animal adventure films of all time.

Scroll to Top