A Paw-somely Funny Adult Adventure
The past few years have seen a surge in taking traditionally wholesome and children-geared films and turning them into adult comedies. Films like 2016’s Sausage Party and 2019’s Good Boys leaned into the shock humor to carry the movies, with the other filmmaking aspects being weaker. Usually, these films lack the heart or messages at the root of most great comedies. The necessity to have outlandish, raunchy humor usually overrides everything else in the film, leaving a lasting impact on the totality of the movie.
Universal Pictures’ Strays follows a dog named Reggie (voiced by Will Ferrell), who is abandoned in the city by his owner Doug (Will Forte). In the city, Reggie meets Bug (voiced by Jamie Foxx), who is also a stray, introducing him to his friends Maggie (voiced by Isla Fisher) and Hunter (voiced by Randall Park). Teaming up with his newfound friends, the four canines embark on an adventure to get revenge on Doug for being a terrible owner.
A Supporting Character That Outshines The Rest
Surprisingly, Strays is able to create a well-rounded cast of characters to which the audience becomes attached. For dog lovers, the treatment and characterization of the dogs in the film already grab you and make you emotionally invested in the characters. With the two main leads, Reggie and Bug, the film can utilize the characters’ back stories to tug on the audience’s heartstrings, doing this with little effort to develop plot lines. Unlike the films mentioned before, Good Boys and Sausage Party, the film ties in emotional elements that elevate the movie among other raunchy comedies.
The stand-out of the film turned out to be Bug, the Boston Terrier voiced by Jamie Foxx. In addition to being the main source of comedic dialogue, Bug receives an emotional backstory that explains the reasoning for his outlandish behavior, which makes the audience gravitate toward him even more. Bug is foul-mouthed and perverted but still has a likable personality that makes up for his faults. Smaller dogs tend to be far more aggressive compared to bigger dogs, so the film uses Bug to highlight this oddity.
Similar to Bug, Reggie is given an emotional backstory that sets the stage for the movie. His character almost pulls a theme about abusive relationships, similar to how the film Reinfield highlighted this theme. He’s oblivious to the abuse in the beginning, always being able to justify Doug’s cruel treatment until he realizes the truth, something his three new friends bring to light. However, Reggie doesn’t have as strong of a personality or characteristics that make him stand out as Bug does. Although he does undergo character development that ends satisfyingly, Reggie isn’t as well-rounded as Bug’s character. The other two dogs, Hunter and Maggie, continue to provide likable characters that don’t take away the spotlight from Reggie or Bug. Their characters are entertaining and have their own quirks that make them unique, as well as highlighting specific dog behaviors.
Since Reggie and Bug have similar backstories, Maggie and Hunter provide a breath of fresh air for the group. Hunter is a Great Dane, and the movie reflects the differences between large and little dogs. Unlike Bug, Hunter has anxiety and is shown to be a gentle giant, afraid of almost everything. Maggie doesn’t receive a character arc, unlike the other dogs. What happens to Maggie in the end doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with how she was introduced in the film, leaving her to feel almost forgotten.
Dog Owner Humor That Goes a Little Too Far
The film works better overall if viewers are dog owners themselves. Some countless jokes and references speak specifically to the behavior of dogs that only owners would understand. The film also works for non-dog owners, as most of the comedy plays for a broad audience. However, the specific jokes about dogs’ strange behavior and habits are amplified for those who live it.
Despite how funny the film is, it sometimes feels like the filmmakers didn’t know when to pull back on the humor. Like most raunchy comedies, Strays pushes the limits by trying to be edgy. Since Strays is treated almost like the adult version of Homeward Bound, it uses its childish set-up as the punch line of many jokes. Countless scenes and moments feel consistent with animal films geared toward children and families, only to quickly spin it in a perverse way. Too often, the film reaches for low-brow crude humor rather than clever witty jokes. Having a couple of these jokes sprinkled throughout the movie can work to throw the audience off guard, but Strays circles back to the well too many times. For example, the film consistently has jokes regarding sex and genitals that, in the beginning, can be humorous but grow stale and excessively vulgar.
A Thinly Written Plot
Strays doesn’t attempt to tell a large, grand story filled with cleverly woven plot lines but instead keeps it simple. Being straightforward allows the film to have sequences that feel like individual stories not connected to the big picture. This becomes both positive and negative for the film. As for positives, it allows the movie to create humorous moments. However, it leaves the plot feeling a little flat and generic. The worst thing a comedy can do is not make its audience laugh. They can do almost everything else wrong, such as having a generic plot, common filmmaking techniques, and weak characters. Still, as long as a comedy can make you laugh, the movie is able to succeed in some capacity. Luckily, Strays certainly provides plenty of laughs.
Strays is currently playing in theaters.
Strays (2023) Universal Pictures Official Trailer