After 2020’s hit Barb and Star Go To Vista Del Mar – honestly, considering our situation that year, this has to be on some list of “movies that most people have seen” – Josh Greenbaum looked for something as equally unusual and eclectic. He succeeded with Strays. As I say to him during this interview: I can’t believe this movie exists. Like, seriously. It’s a movie about talking dogs embarking on a mission to bite a man’s penis off. Also, it probably sets the record for most expletives in a movie this year. If you haven’t figured it out yet, this is not a movie for kids. (But I also suspect the kids who sneak in to see it will love it.) But it’s also surprisingly sweet, at times sad, and definitely very funny. Again, I am shocked someone said “yes” to making this.
Reggie (voiced by Will Ferrell) has a terrible owner, Doug (Will Forte). Doug blames Reggie for his breakup (some undergarments belonging to the woman Doug was cheating with are involved) and abandons Reggie in the city. Reggie thinks it’s a game at first and tries to make his way back to Doug. But then Reggie meets fellow dogs Bug (Jamie Foxx), Maggie (Isla Fisher), and Hunter (Randall Park). Those four explain to Reggie it’s not a game and now he’s a stray and they teach him the ways of being a stray. Eventually, the anger builds up enough inside of Reggie that he wants revenge on Doug. And the ultimate revenge would be to take away Doug’s favorite thing on this earth, his penis.
Ahead, Greenbaum explains why, he, too, is surprised Strays exists. Also, he explains why Dennis Quaid is in this movie playing himself as a bird watcher. But first, speaking of Barb and Star Go To Vista Del Mar, Greenbaum’s daughters wanted to use “Edgar’s Prayer” during a school recital, which Greenbaum was all for and was very excited about. But the director of the school recital had his own vision told the director of motion pictures, “No.” (If you need a refresher on “Edgar’s Prayer,” it’s still terrific.)
Last time I spoke to you for Barb and Star, I don’t miss that time period, but I had so much time stuck at home I wrote an oral history of “Edgar’s Prayer.”
I recall this and absolutely love it.
I still listen to that song all the time. It’s so catchy.
I do, too. And funny enough, my daughters, who now just turned 11, were in a school musical last year where you got to play any song you wanted and they wanted to play “Edgar’s Prayer” at their school show. But, unfortunately, the guy in charge didn’t go for it.
I was like, ah, come on.
It didn’t fit the theme.
Whatever his thing was…
Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait.
I was going to have a Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo cameo for them, but yeah.
Okay, let me get this straight, the director of a school project went against the advice from a person who’s directed feature films?
Yes, correct. He had a vision for the show, Mike, and “Edgar’s Prayer” did not fit the vision and I said, totally fair. Totally fair.
What did they use instead of “Edgar’s Prayer”?
I don’t know. I forget what it was. Old movies or maybe it was like Disney movies. It was a theme that, in his defense, was like, yeah, “Edgar’s Prayer” didn’t fit. But I was like, who cares? It’s the kids’ dad’s movie! Just let them do it! But it didn’t happen. Anyway.
I watched this, by myself, after I got home late last night from a flight back from Kansas City. So I started not in a great mood and I still laughed out loud by myself at least six times.
Oh, that’s amazing. I love to hear that.
The one that really got me is Reggie humping the gnome. Where he’s told to say “I’m your daddy.” But instead says, “Hello, I’m your father.”
Introducing himself, “I’m your father.” It’s so good. That’s Will Ferrell at his best. I don’t like to rank my jokes in my movies because I love them all, but that’s definitely in the top five for me.
Yeah, I can see why you don’t want to rank your own jokes.
Well, They’re not mine. I don’t want to claim. Just from my film. I think that was a combination of Dan Perrault, our writer, pitching Jamie Foxx to say, “Tell that gnome you’re his daddy,” and then Will Ferrell running with that concept and being like, okay, I’ll introduce myself to my son.
I don’t understand how this movie exists.
I’m happy it does, but I can’t believe people said yes to this idea.
Same. It’s such a huge kudos to Universal, to all of the producers involved – Phil Lord and Chris Miller, my whole team. But yeah, that’s exciting to me when you’re like, I can’t believe something exists. That was part of the huge appeal to me was certainly coming off of Barb and Star and figuring out what do I want to do next? I’m always just attracted to something that feels like, the projects that you’re on set being like, “Are we really making this?” Because I had that experience a thousand times on Barb and Star. And then I had it again a thousand times on this movie where it’s like waiting for somebody to come on set and be like, “Just kidding, we didn’t really mean to go make an R-rated talking dog movie.”
Here’s what I’m looking forward to. I’m imagining some kid in fourth or fifth grade telling all his classmates, “I learned the plot to Strays.”
By the way, it’s already happened because my daughters are 11. They’ve been watching me edit this film sometimes remotely. I’m doing VFX reviews, so they know generally what it’s about. I told them it’s about Reggie being a mean owner and he wants to bite his owner “in the butt.”
Right, “the butt”…
And that’s simple enough and they get it. But they do have friends now. They’ve just started middle school today and they have friends who are on social media. My kids are not, and one of their best friends has been liking all of my posts of the trailer and clips. I don’t even think he’s 11, I think he’s 10. And I told them, I was like, do not talk to Owen. Tell Owen to stop watching all of the material for Strays. It is not for him. So yeah, I’m sure some kids are going to sneak into this theater. It is not supposed to be for them.
I’m looking forward to the unsuspecting parent that isn’t quite paying attention and is like, “I don’t know, it’s some talking dogs. When I was a kid I saw Temple of Doom. Let’s see what happens here.”
Temple of Doom! I also hope it doesn’t happen, but it may. I definitely have friends, even this morning, I had a friend post on my social media saying, “I can’t wait to take my kids to see this.” I was like, “Watch the trailer!”
They’re going to yell at you.
No, I wrote them back and said, “Do not take your kids to this.” But yeah, it’s interesting when, again, that’s part of the fun of doing something brand new. It’s like rewiring people’s brains to say, wait a minute. Because there are definitely people that are like, “You can’t do that.” It’s like, why not? Says who? Even the Spider-Verse, why does animation only have to be this style and for children? It became artistic and creative.
This is definitely the kind of movie when I was in fifth or sixth grade I would see on HBO. I remember stumbling on an animated movie by Ralph Bakshi called Hey Good Lookin’ and the cartoons were cussing and it blew my mind.
Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. I know what you’re talking about.
There’s going to be some kid, this will be that for them.
Yes, absolutely. For sure. And then hopefully for all adults and all ages and the kid in all of us. I had a blast making it, and I think that maybe the thing we’re not marketing, which I’m totally fine not marketing at this point, is that it’s quite sweet.
Oh, it is. I have to know this, how did Dennis Quaid wind up in this movie?
Oh, simple answer, we asked him and he didn’t get offended. Because I was like, he might be like, “Are they making fun of my other movies?” I was like, no, we love those movies and I love Dennis Quaid and everything he does. But no, we wrote a bird watcher into the script and this idea of this eagle sequence – thought about who would be great to be a bird watcher, thought about the dog movie genre. We have a couple of other cameos, like Josh Gad is the narrator dog, which is from A Dog’s Journey and A Dog’s Purpose…
Oh, and I caught the Stand By Me reference, too.
Yeah, Stand By Me, which was a huge creative reference for me. And by the way, the other creative reference to a film I love is Breaking Away.
I just watched that somewhat recently.
How good is it?
It’s really great.
Isn’t that a great film? So I’m on a cliff with Dennis Quaid shooting the scene for Strays talking about Breaking Away and how it was one of the creative inspirations for this film.
You need to get him on a bike.
Oh, I know. Pedaling like a madman.
Okay, I’m out of time…
I’m excited to see what your new “Edgar’s Prayer” breakdown for this movie is. You have to figure out something to do, like the definitive breakdown for the sequence.
The oral history of why Dennis Quaid is in Strays.
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