Based on the poster showing two cute dogs – a border terrier and a Boston terrier – I had assumed Strays was a (probably lame) kiddie film with a remit to amuse the aforementioned kiddies during the long, long, very long summer holidays, so here’s what I was saying to myself during the opening moments: ‘Christ on a bike, what the hell is this?’ I can now tell you that Strays is vulgar, rude, offensive and disgusting. But the biggest, weirdest shock? At a certain point I realised it was funny, and rather touching, and that I was having fun. In other words, I was pleasantly surprised. Or, given its frequent scatological content, pleasantly surprised, unpleasantly.
The film is directed by Josh Greenbaum and written by Dan Perrault, and our main dog is the border terrier, Reggie (voiced by Will Ferrell, who of course had to be somewhere in the mix). We first meet Reggie running through a field and chasing butterflies while declaring: ‘This is a great day, the greatest day!’ But it turns out that his owner, Doug (Will Forte), is a stoner brute. Reggie doesn’t know that his name is Reggie. He thinks his name is ‘Dumbass Shitbag’ – you see now how this differs from Lady and the Tramp – because that is what Doug always calls him. Doug kicks Reggie and throws cans at him and shuts the door against him. I did not enjoy this part. I don’t want to see dogs treated cruelly. I am still traumatised by Old Yeller 50 years after the fact. But Doug wants rid of Reggie, as we will always call him, so drives him further and further away, throws his ball, drives home without him.