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DVD SAVANT

The Shaggy Dog
The Wild and Wolly Edition


The Shaggy Dog
Disney DVD
1959 / 1:85 anamorphic 16:9 (B&W, 102 min.) 1:33 pan-scan (colorized, 92 min. / Street Date March 7, 2006 / 19.99
Starring Tommy Kirk, Fred MacMurray, Kevin Corcoran, Roberta Shore, Jean Hagen, Tim Considine, Annette Funicello, Cecil Kellaway, Alexander Scourby, Strother Martin
Cinematography Edward Colman
Animal Supervisor William R. Koehler
Art Direction Carroll Clark
Film Editor James Ballas
Original Music Gil George, Will Schaefer, Paul J. Smith
Written by Bill Walsh, Lillie Hayward from the novel The Hound of Florence by Felix Salten
Co-Produced by Bill Walsh
Directed by Charles Barton

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Disney's first live-action comedy feature film was a breakout hit in 1959, out-grossing his expensive animated pictures and opening up an entire new direction for him. Not everything in the kingdom of Mickey Mouse was a profit center, and Walt was fast to exploit new territory.

Originally intended as a television show, The Shaggy Dog became a feature when the ABC network backed out of the deal. Bill Walsh's savvy screenplay adds all the right ingredients, even if the execution is totally squaresville ... the picture can probably be called the first "Shook Up Shopping Cart" movie.  1

Synopsis:

Young Wilby Daniels (Tommy Kirk) is possessed by the curse attached to a magical ring, a Borgia relic in the museum collection of Professor Plumcutt (Cecil Kellaway). It turns him into a big Shaggy Dog that happens to be the pet of his new neighbor, the beautiful, teenaged Franceska Andrassy (Roberta Shore). While trying to keep his unpredictable transformations a secret from his dog-hating mailman father (Fred MacMurray) and his mom (Jean Hagen), Wilby learns that Franceska's father, Dr. Mikhail Andrassy (Alexander Scourby) is a foreign spy! Wilby's friends Allison and Buzz (Annette Funicello and Tim Considine) are confused by his sudden appearances and disappearances. His younger brother Moochie (Kevin Corcoran) is delighted -- he thinks Wilby makes a much better dog than a brother!

The Shaggy Dog was sold as a hip teenaged monster movie that added to its family appeal by bringing out the crowd that came to 50s monster films just to laugh at them. Disney was the first major filmmaker to see that a picture about a shape-shifting teenager would make a natural comedy. Besides old-movie references to creepy museums and a cursed ring, producer-writer Bill Walsh throws in Commie spies as well, following the proven formula decreeing that foreign intellectuals are always up to no good. Hired as director is Charles Barton, the man never given enough credit for the hilarious Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.

The film was America's first introduction to the Disney fantasy-comedy formula, loosely satirizing complacent TV family sitcoms. The clueless "Father Knows Nothing" dad with no visible job has a proclivity for shooting his gun in a residential neighborhood. The clueless Mom has no visible function whatsoever besides serving meals. A precocious teenaged hero has an adolescent brother called Moochie who would really like to have a dog. The werewolf angle comes in solely for comic effect, as a single try-on of the spooky Borgia ring makes Tommy Kirk into a permanent shape-shifter, a proclivity that the movie never resolves. But this is, after all, a "Shaggy Dog Story." Perhaps Disney was hoping The Shaggy Dog might become a TV series after all.

The very cute Tommy Kirk is supposed to be a loser-type, fooled into lending the money for his slick hot rod-driving pal Tim Considine to take the ladylike Annette Funicello on a date. When a new neighbor with a French accent (and the titular pooch) moves in across the street, Wilby is still second in line.

The Shaggy Dogis bright and breezy with its monster movie roots (MacMurray: "My son is NOT a werewolf!"), a hip quality that doesn't extend to its outdated ideas about teens. The big dating event is an all-family dance social in blazer coats and formal gowns, with a band from hunger. It's as if James Dean, Rock 'n Roll and teen angst had never happened; Disney's official policy must have been that these trends were faddish aberrations that would die off if ignored. Disney's complacent vision for the future went one way while reality went another.

Tommy Kirk would repeat his clumsy hero role in a fistful of Disney teen fantasies. Poor Annette Funicello is sort of shoved off to one side, as if Disney were unimpressed by her acting ability; we can easily see why she'd bolt to A.I.P. beach party movies in a year or two. Dreamy Roberta Shore is a satisfactory object of romance. Tim Considine's borderline creep character would like to make time with her but the plot doesn't give anyone time for even a kiss - there are too many runaway dogs and kidnappings to contend with. Alexander Scourby (The Big Heat) is a lifeless Commie mastermind backed up by Strother Martin's efficient henchman, who may end up the film's only (off-screen) fatality. Cecil Kellaway's part is so small that he barely registers in the memory. It's quite possible that the 102-minute film was put together from a TV script that spread the action out over several episodes, and some material had to be jettisoned.

Jean Hagen (Singin' in the Rain) is in the picture for a few motherly smiles while top-billed Fred MacMurray is given several choice scenes to be a befuddled fool. We laughed our heads off at The Shaggy Dog when it was new, as if it had reinvented comedy from scratch. Disney had certainly primed us by sneak-peeking big doses of the movie on his Disney TV show -- I remember seeing that shot of Tommy Kirk's homemade rocket smashing through the house at least a dozen times. The biggest laugh-getter was the silliest part of the picture, two cops (James Westerfield and Jacques Aubuchon) repeatedly bamboozled by a dog that talks and drives a car. The sight of the pooch driving the hot rod was somehow the funniest thing we'd seen in our lives.

Seeing the The Shaggy Dog now makes us doubt whether it's a good idea to re-view The Absent-Minded Professor or Son of Flubber again. The whole movie now seems like an anthropological exercise. All we see are the dated ideas and the underlying political aspect: Once the authorities find out that the Daniels family knows secrets about the rocket factory (shades of Invaders from Mars, the title of which even finds its way into the dialogue) all the male members of the family are rounded up for interrogation by government agents. That idea isn't so funny any more. The remake could have had Fred MacMurray being led around shackled and blindfolded at Guantanamo! Big laughs! The Shaggy Dog is recommended as a terrific nostalgia movie --- I'm not sure that today's kids will be able to relate to it.


Disney's "Wild and Woolly" edition of The Shaggy Dog happily departs from their habit of presenting their popular live action releases in substandard pan-scan editions: Third Man on the Mountain, etc.. Savant went right for the enhanced B&W widescreen version, which is restored to its theatrical length. An additional colorized version has been included it's been trimmed by ten full minutes to jam in more TV commercials, I suppose. Audio and picture on the B&W are splendid.

The extras are a commentary and a pair of bouncy interview docus. Tommy Kirk, Kevin Corcoran, Tim Considine and Roberta Shore show up to tax their memories about the film. Their commentary track repeats much of the info in the on-camera interviews, but it's fun to see these 'kids' 47 years later. Apparently they haven't crossed paths since working on these films -- so much for the 'big happy family' myths propagated by the Disney publicity mill. Another featurette salutes Fred MacMurray, with testimony that makes him out to be exactly like the guy from My Three Sons. Fair enough.

The packaging provided with the review disc appears not to be final: The first line of text on the back goofs by calling the film the first live-action movie by Disney, not his first live-action comedy. Perhaps Disney, like Sony and Fox, has pared back on the DVD staff that might check for those kinds of errors.


On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, The Shaggy Dog rates:
Movie: Good
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: featurettes with cast members, audio commentary
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: March 14, 2006


Footnote:

1. A reference to a movie spoof in director Joe Dante's wonderful Matinee (1993), which desperately needs to be made into a 2, 3, or 10-disc special edition. Disney's escapist, harmless 'family fun' movies were everywhere in the 1960s, and although we now sometimes wonder what attracted us to 'em, we sure loved them when we were 11 years old.
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DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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