Film Review: The Stray

Offered as a warm-hearted dog yarn, this gentle but tendentious fact-based family drama goes astray into agitprop for family and Christian values. Unsuspecting dog-loving viewers deserve to be forewarned.
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Yes, The Stray is an intended showpiece for the nobility of stray dogs, but it’s seven parts faith-based/laced tale to three-parts dog tale that wags throughout on behalf of Christian values. The film will disappoint unsuspecting animal-loving viewers expecting something akin to the recent crowd-pleaser A Dog’s Purpose, a pure-bred dog film. But The Stray’s purpose is different and many dog lovers might even feel duped by this Purdie Distribution release that could be seen as well-meaning cinematic dog exploitation on behalf of religious proselytizing.

But no harm done, as the film’s story is simple, the big white fluffy stray Pluto lovable (though not enough at story’s center) and the film’s motives soon obvious to those forewarned.

After an extensive meet-and-greet with a typical young family—including aspiring filmmaker husband/father Mitch (Michael Cassidy), housewife/mother Michelle (Sarah Lancaster) and their three young kids—a baby and most notably eight-year-old Christian (Connor Corum) and four-year-old Rachel (Eliza de Acevedo Brown)—they move to Colorado mountain country so Mitch, having escaped a grueling no-exit studio script department gig, can write his own stuff.

The idea of bringing a stray into the family pops into Mitch’s head and, voilà, Christian befriends sweet mutt Pluto, who moves in and becomes a great asset to the household, even helping them find the baby when she crawls beyond family property. But matters take a turn when Mitch takes Christian, two neighbors’ kids and Pluto on a backpacking camping trip. They hike into the wilderness, get a little lost and set up their tent for the night.

When a mean storm rolls in with a lethal thunderbolt, the film goes tragic for one family member, as (suggested in the opening frames that precede the long flashback) Pluto takes the brunt of the lightning strike.

Beyond its pervasive, wholesome sweetness and worthy intentions, The Stray is on four shaky legs. Among many matters, the script is serviceable but mediocre, the depiction of hero Mitch as a toiling L.A. studio script evaluator and his colleagues rings false, and the ending—decidedly protracted—will prove patently unpleasant for animal lovers.

The Stray, employing the efforts of a number of Davis family members, is a vanity production based on the film’s writer-director Mitch Davis’ real story. An addendum to the movie presents photos of the real Davises and, most poignantly, home movies of the real Pluto, who gave his life so that The Stray could reach screens and, hopefully, many Christian viewers and dog lovers of all persuasions.

Moving from dog to cat, fans of Cat Stevens get a bonus as The Stray features several of his hits and allusions to the pop star who left music to focus on his deep commitment to Islam. Of course, there are audiences for films like these and, like lucky strays, this one too shall be found.

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