Mitch Davis’s life seemed picture perfect with a budding career in Hollywood and a beautiful young family. Beneath the surface, however, relationships were strained and money was tight. At just the right time, Pluto the Wonderdog entered their lives and saved the day. He not only restored the Davis family, he also saved Mitch’s life. The Stray, in select theaters October 6, tells the Davis family’s amazing story.
The Stray writer and director Mitch Davis describes what life was like before Pluto.
We had a young family, two children and one on the way. I was working seven days a week, seventy to eighty hours a week. We didn’t have a lot of money, but we had plenty of stress. We had financial stress, marital stress, career stress, family stress. I made the wise suggestion to my wife that we should get a dog. It made her laugh out loud and made her want to kick me out of the house. A stray dog showed up a short time later. We didn’t go out and get a dog; the dog came and got us.
Pluto was an answer to their prayers. He met a need in their family they didn’t even know existed.
Pluto just showed up. He followed our oldest son [Christian] home from school. He just plopped down into our family and acted like he’d always been a part of it.
I think he knew we saved him. He was hungry when he showed up, and we fed him. It brings to mind a scriptural parallel, “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (Matt. 25:35 ESV).
He always seemed to know who in the family was having a bad day. He would sit down, put his head in their lap, and force them to pet him. You just kind of let go of your troubles. Dogs make you do things as a family you wouldn’t otherwise do. You start going for walks because you’ve got to take your dog for a walk. A lot of things started happening naturally in our family that wouldn’t have happened without him present.
The Davis family began to experience healing in the broken places.
The first thing he did is provide a healing influence in the life of our son, Christian. Christian knew he had a friend that would always be there for him no matter what.
Dog owners get it. They know what a healing presence a dog can be. But on a backpacking trip, Pluto literally saved Mitch’s life. Mitch, Christian, and two friends were in the mountains of Colorado when a bolt of lightning struck Mitch. The lightning traveled through Mitch and into Pluto before it also connected with the boys.
The most dramatic thing he did was save my life when I was struck by lightning on a backpacking trip. That was the coup de grâce. He did a lot of things to heal our family, and then he saved me during the lightning strike.
It was supernatural. It was mind-blowing in a literal and physical sense. After I got the boys back to sleep, I just laid there in the tent overwhelmed with a sense of awe that I had been struck and survived one of those bolts that you see light up the sky at night. It was hard to comprehend.
Of course, I had to ask, “What was it like to be struck by lightning?”
I became aware that I was dying. I felt overwhelmed by a darkness that was taking me backward out of mortality. I did not want to go. This dark, oppressive force overcame me. I felt that if I prayed, I would be saved. I couldn’t even do that. My tongue was bound. I couldn’t even formulate a prayer in my head, I was that overcome by darkness.
At the last possible minute, when I really could tell I was about to be snuffed out, I heard a voice. I take it to be the voice of God. It was not thundering or booming; it was very mild and calm. He expressed his love for me and approval of me. He said quite clearly, “Ask in confidence.” I took it that God knew I was in trouble. He knew I needed more faith than I had. He knew that if I asked that prayer in faith, he would answer it. With that little encouragement, I was finally able to offer a simple prayer. I was able to cry out in my mind, “Father.” As soon as I did that, my eyes rolled forward, and I regained consciousness. I felt darkness fleeing immediately.
This isn’t Davis’s first writer/director/producer project, but this one is different because it’s his story. I asked Davis what it was like to watch his own story through the lens of a camera?
It was really gratifying. My wife got to be on set with me. We got to sit there as a couple, now grandparents, and look back on a period of our life that had been very difficult and be grateful that we hung in there and got through it. It reminded both of us that we had done some hard things together. They key word being “together.” We stuck it out.
What do the Davis kids and grandkids think about the movie?
They get a kick out of it. One of our granddaughters is in the movie; she plays the littlest toddler. My son, Parker, wrote the original screenplay. My middle son Marshall edited the movie and colored it. My oldest son Christian who is actually the Christian character in the movie scored the music. My wife was associate producer. There are a lot of Davises in the credits. It was a fun thing to do together.
The Stray has action and adventure, drama and emotion. Mitch’s miraculous story is inspiring for both young and old. Davis enjoys providing family-friendly entertainment.
Family movies usually mean animated movies. A lot of people are so happy to see a family movie that appeals to parents and kids that isn’t animated. It’s a real movie about real people.
Davis had more to say about making movies with a positive message.
I don’t know why anybody would go to the trouble and expense to tell a dark, terrible story. I don’t know why anybody would aspire to do a good job at a bad thing. Why not make movies that uplift, encourage, instruct, edify. I’ve written and directed five movies. They aren’t without drama, pain, difficulty, and sadness. But at the end of the movie, I hope that you’ve been taken somewhere you want to go where there is some hope and some light. That is just the way I was raised. It’s the kind of family I grew up in. It’s the kind of gospel I was taught–hope and faith for the future.
I think that there are a lot of forces at work, economic and otherwise, that are pushing popular culture to a darker place than it would otherwise go. I think the movie business is, by far, the greatest driver of popular culture. We’ve got to produce movies of an uplifting nature and attend movies of an uplifting nature so that Hollywood stands up and takes notice and makes more of them.
Davis shares a vision that puts our entertainment decisions in perspective.
I had an interesting experience while at USC Film School. I got stuck in traffic one day. I tried to look around Los Angeles and imagine what a Roman Centurion would think about the city of L.A. I imagined him sitting in my car and saying, “This is your chariot. It gets you from here to there.” Then he looks at the freeway and says, ‘This is your road system. We have roads where I am from, though not as wide as this one.” I imagine we drive past the Coliseum and he says, “Oh, this is where your gladiators come to entertain and do battle with each other.”
Then, in my mind’s eye, I imagine him standing in front of the Grauman’s Chinese Theatre on a premier night watching people stream into a movie theater. I hear him say, “Ah! Your temple, where people go to be instructed and to worship the gods.” That last piece haunted me. It motivated me then and motivates me now. You can stand in the lobby of a theater watching people walking around looking for a false god to worship; it is kind of disheartening. I am really motivated to try to provide entertainment inside cinemas to uplift rather than darkens the planet.
Frank Capra (director of It’s a Wonderful Life) said, “Only the morally courageous should be allowed to talk to their fellow men for two hours in the dark.” I believe that. That’s what we do in the movie theater. We go into a dark room, and we willingly suspend disbelief. We say throw at us whatever you got. We adopt it, ingest it.
October 6th, movie-goers have an opportunity to make the choice to invest their entertainment dollars in a positive film. It is an opportunity to choose light instead of darkness, truth over deception. The Stray will entertain you and make you smile, but it will also inspire you with a message of hope and love. Pluto the Wonderdog’s positive impact can extend beyond the Davis family into your own.
Mitch Davis was raised in Escondido, California and is the oldest of seven children. In 1989 he earned a Master’s degree in film from the University of Southern California, at the conclusion of which he was awarded an internship at Disney Studios. He was later hired by Disney as a junior executive in the Creative Group where he worked on such movies as Rocketeer, Newsies, White Fang, and Dead Poets Society. Davis later moved to a producer’s job at Columbia Studios before leaving Hollywood to pursue a career as an independent filmmaker. Davis is married to the former Michelle Haynie. They have five children, all married, and eight and a half grandchildren.