The Stray

Movie review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
The Stray Movie Poster Image
Faith-based family drama could distress dog lovers.
  • PG
  • 2017
  • 92 minutes

Parents say

age 8+
Based on 13 reviews

Kids say

age 7+
Based on 1 review

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

The movie's messages all relate to family and faith: Learn to put your family first, trust in God to provide for and protect you, and open your heart to the joys and blessings of a dog/pet.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The Davis parents are loving, supportive, and observant. Mitch learns to prioritize his family. Pluto is an extraordinary dog who deserves his nickname of "the wonder dog."

Violence

(Spoiler alert!) This is a tough movie for viewers sensitive to animal/pet deaths. A dog dies from being hit by lightning after saving his human's life; his dead body is shown in several subsequent scenes, and he's later buried in an extended funeral sequence. A father and three boys are also hurt by the lightning, but they all survive (the father gets non-life-threatening injuries, including a scar). Other scenes show a toddler running out into the street and a boy getting bullied on the playground and bus.

Sex

A married couple kisses and embraces a couple of times. A boy makes a joke about how Pamela Anderson, the star of Baywatch, "saved his life."

Language

A man is about to say "bastards" but only gets out "bas" before switching to "you know whats." The word "crap" or "crapped" is said a few times.

Consumerism

Toyota, BMW.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Stray is a family-oriented drama based on the experiences that director Mitch Davis and his family had with Pluto, a stray dog that saved the family many times, in various ways. Although the movie is subtly faith based and has relatively little iffy material (a married couple kisses, "crap"/"crapped" is said a couple of times, along with a partial "bastards"), there are some distressing scenes, particularly (spoiler alert) for viewers sensitive to pet deaths. The disturbing moments include a toddler running out into the street, a boy getting bullied on the playground and bus, and a dog sacrificing his life for his humans. The dog's body is shown more than once, and there's even an extended funeral for him. But there are also strong messages about putting family first and opening your heart to the joys and blessings of a dog/pet.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 7 year old Written byAnne M. February 18, 2018

Made all my kids cry for over half an hour

The dog dies 2/3 into the movie. My oldest daughter sobbed for the remainder of the movie and thereafter. I did not realize the movie was biographical and I kep... Continue reading
Grandparent Written byJoe H. October 21, 2017

Not ready for release

I wanted to like the movie. Our family loves dogs, Jesus, and the power of prayer. But movie making requires a lot of expertise from a lot of people. Writing,... Continue reading
Teen, 17 years old Written byMadmar23 July 27, 2018

What's the story?

THE STRAY is a semi-autobiographical drama about director Mitch Davis' (here played by Michael Cunningham) family dog in the early 1990s. Mitch is so busy working at a production studio reading scripts that he doesn't have time to write his own, much less play sports with his oldest son, Christian (Connor Corum), who's being bullied at school. Christian wants a dog, but mom Michelle (Sarah Lancaster) has her hands full with three young kids -- so she says that if a stray dog manages to find their family, they'll keep it. And that's exactly what happens: A stray mutt protects Christian from his tormentors, and the Davis family takes him in and names him Pluto. The dog also manages to save the family's toddler when she ambles out of the house, and, after a move to rural Colorado, Pluto continues to help strengthen the family's bonds.

Is it any good?

While the first half of the movie is a wholesome, uplifting family drama, the second half is full of seemingly never-ending distress for dog-loving audiences. There are some things to like about The Stray -- despite Mitch's work-life balance issues and Christian's initial lack of friends, the Davises have a strong, faithful family (Davis is Mormon in real life, but the on-screen Davis family is depicted as Christian, without any specific reference to a particular denomination). The movie's faith-based aspect is downplayed but present in prayers and the subtle message that Pluto was sent to the family by God. But secular families who love dogs might still find the movie appealing ... at least at first.

Cunningham and Lancaster do their best with the script's sentimental material, but there are some head-scratching moments that will force moviegoers to suspend their disbelief one too many times. For instance, it's an admittedly nitpicky detail, but any family camper knows you don't fire up a portable gas burner inside a tent. But pretty much everything that happens on the fateful backpacking trip Mitch takes with Christian and his two friends is difficult to process or believe. And Mitch and the boys' behavior after a catastrophic event just doesn't make any sense. From there, the rest of the movie is a long, painful ordeal -- every scene a strange reminder of what was lost on the camping trip.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the popularity of dog-centered movies like The Stray. Why do you think they connect so much with viewers? Do you think you need to have or love dogs to appreciate these movies?

  • Why do you think animals dying in movies can be so much more upsetting than even human-related violence in movies?

  • Which characters are role models in The Stray? What character strengths do they exhibit?

  • How does the movie portray bullying? Does it seem realistic?

  • If you have pets, talk about the role they play in your life and how they've made your family closer.

Movie details

Themes & Topics

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