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'Strays' director on making sure Will Ferrell flick is 'emotionally grounded' and not just R-rated spoof

Strays arrives on the big screen Friday, June 9.

By Josh Weiss
Strays (2023)

On Wednesday, Universal Pictures introduced the world to Reggie, a happy-go-lucky Border Terrier with a heartwarming mission to find his way back home, reunite with his owner, and then ... *checks notes* bite off the man's ... *ahem* reproductive organ.

Voiced by Will Ferrell, Reggie is the anthropomorphic protagonist of Strays, the second feature from director Josh Greenbaum (Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar), who wants audiences to know that the project (written by American Vandal scribe Dan Perrault and hitting theaters this June) isn't just an R-rated parody of previous talking dog flicks like Homeward Bound and The Adventures of Milo and Otis.

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"[There are] a couple moments that send up that genre, that I love and you'll see in the film, but the movie really holds up on its own," Greenbaum remarked during an interview with Collider. "It's really very funny but emotionally grounded, it's a film about relationships, unhealthy, toxic relationships, how we deal with them, how we found our own self-worth, how our friends play into that. So it was sort of this incredibly outrageous, loud idea, done really well with great jokes."

After years of mistreatment at the hands of Doug (Will Forte), Reggie links up with a pack of strays led by a freedom-loving Boston Terrier named Doug (Jamie Foxx), who convinces our hero to seek out a healthy dose of raunchy, slobbery revenge. But if you think Strays solely relies on swear words and adult-oriented humor, you may want to check the tightness of your collar.

"I don't like R-rated films that only rely on how R-rated they are. It's always a balancing act,” Greenbaum told Empire. “You want a variety of comedy, and so, obviously the trailer gives you a little flavor, but it's the red-band trailer, so we gave you a healthy dose of that.”

Even so, there's no getting around the fact that the narrative momentum revolves around a dog with an ambition to give his owner a reverse-neutering.

"I was like, 'I want to make sure we dial that, we build toward it and we deliver it in a way that's unexpected and fun and big and crazy,'" the director added while in conversation with /FILM. "So that was one that we spent a lot of time on and I'm excited when you get to watch it and you'll let me know what you think. But certainly from the reaction from our early previews, it was really exciting. There was a lot of applause and it was like, 'Oh, we got something. It's working.'"

The voice cast also includes Isla Fisher and Randall Park as two members of Bug's pack: Maggie (an Australian Shepard, who has been sidelined by the arrival of a new puppy) and Hunter (a Great Dane with an anxiety disorder). While it's highly uncommon for actors to be together for the voiceover process, Greenbaum worked hard to gather his performers in the studio for a better flow of dialogue.

"That was really important to me," he noted to Collider. "I don't know if there was a session with Will or Jamie where at least the other person wasn't there, because they're the two main characters, and that was really huge. I mean, unfortunately, for whatever reason, scheduling, et cetera, they tend to just, on these films, come in, they do their lines opposite like a director who may not be a great actor, like myself, and that's it. And then you cobble all the stuff together and it's like, 'No, I want this to feel alive and to get the incredible improv out of these incredibly talented, funny people.'"

Josh Gad (Beauty and the Beast), Harvey Guillén (Puss in Boots: The Last Wish), Rob Riggle (The Hangover), Brett Gelman (Stranger Things), Jamie Demetriou (The Afterparty), and Sofia Vergara (Modern Family) co-star.

Perrault produced the film alongside Erik Feig, Louis Leterrier, Phil Lord, Chris Miller, and Aditya Sood. Jessica Switch, Nikki Baida, and Julia Hammer are executive producers.

Strays arrives in theaters Friday, June 9.

In the mood for more canine chaos? Try playing a game of fetch with Fluffy, the three-headed dog, in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone — now streaming on Peacock.