A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
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.
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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?
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.
- In theaters: October 6, 2017
- On DVD or streaming: February 6, 2018
- Cast: Michael Cassidy, Sarah Lancaster, Connor Corum
- Director: Mitch Davis
- Studio: Purdie Distribution
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Brothers and Sisters, Cats, Dogs, and Mice, Friendship
- Run time: 92 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: thematic elements including a perilous situation
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.