Strays looks like an old-fashioned family film featuring live animals. Remember Homeward Bound, or its French original The Incredible Journey? Or Babe, Milo and Otis, even Lassie?
Now let’s take these kids stories and go adult. I mean, full-on R-rated adult.
It’s a little challenging to even give you the basic premise. But here goes.
Our hero Reggie - voiced by Will Ferrell – has the world’s worst owner, yet the poor mutt doesn’t realise it. Even when Dodgy Doug keeps abandoning him further and further away from home.
Lost in the big city Reggie meets a street dog called Bug – voiced by Jamie Foxx – who sets him straight.
Bug also introduces Reggie to a couple of friends – Hunter the gigantic therapy dog with confidence issues, and a pretty collie called Maggie with a foul mouth and an Australian accent. Inevitably Isla Fisher.
Once Reggie realises how poorly he’s been treated, he decides to take revenge on Doug.
I can’t tell you his exact plans other than to say that Reggie will punish Doug more than any Doug was ever punished.
But first he has to get home, with the aid of his new friends.
And along the way, expect R-rated gags and stunts featuring pizza-snaffling, unnatural relations with garden ornaments and couches, non-stop swearing and at least one scene of everyone getting off their faces on magic mushrooms.
Strays was produced by the hottest comedy producers right now, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, whose careers were launched with an unlikely hit - the animated Cloudy with the Chance of Meatballs - followed by even less likely hits with the remake of 21 Jump Street and various Lego movies.
Going R-rated with a kids’ movie was obviously child’s play to them.
But Lord and Miller’s secret weapon is also on display in Strays. No matter how raunchy it seems to get – these dogs swear like other dogs bark – at the film’s heart there’s …well, good old-fashioned Hollywood heart.
These mutts may have been rejected by their – mostly - awful owners, but they’ve got each other’s backs and they remain fundamentally good dogs.
When the chips are down, they’ll behave like Ole Yeller, Lassie and the hundred and one Dalmations. Despite the language.
It shouldn’t work. Strays should be a lot of cheap cracks at the expense of every Disney live-action animal movie ever made.
Except the jokes are often hilarious, the story hangs together perfectly – I loved the “devil in the sky” gag – and you fall in love with these dogs as easily as you would have in a G-rated version.
Since it’s so hard getting performances from so many canine stars at one time, maybe everyone else was inspired to do good work too. Stray’s voice-actors were clearly encouraged to adlib around what the dogs gave them, and the results were so much better than you were expecting. As was the movie.