Pulling inspiration from a handful of celebrated children's books, Harry the Dirty Dog ... and More Playful Puppy Stories is aimed squarely at preschoolers. The gentle, low-key animated shorts collected here (as well as one live-action piece) are bereft of the coy pop-culture references and zany hijinks that characterize so much of what passes for family-friendly entertainment. Now, that might not translate into much fun for older kids, but the smallest viewers are likely to be enchanted.
"Harry the Dirty Dog" -- written by Gene Zion, illustrated by Margaret Bloy Graham
Buoyed by a wonderful light-jazz music score, this nine-minute, six-second short is about a dog who likes everything except taking a bath. Harry is so opposed to bathing, in fact, that he buries the scrubbing brush in his family's backyard before setting out to get dirty. After playing at a railroad and street repair site, Harry changes from being a "white dog with black spots to a black dog with white spots." "Harry the Dirty Dog" is breezy, playful and every bit as good as the book on which it is based.
"No Roses for Harry!" -- written by Gene Zion, illustrated by Margaret Bloy Graham
Not as charming as its predecessor, perhaps, this entry is no dog, either -- figuratively, that is. The 11-minute, 13-second animated tale depicts how our clever canine copes when he is forced to wear a garish sweater given him by a family aunt -- a human aunt, that is.
"Officer Buckle and Gloria" -- written and illustrated by Peggy Rathmann
Based on a book I never get tired of reading to my kids, "Officer Buckle and Gloria" details a hapless police officer who gives lackluster lessons to the schoolchildren of fictitious Napville. Officer Buckle suddenly becomes a hot commodity on the speaker circuit, however, when he is teamed up with Gloria, a police dog who acts out, unbeknownst to the officer, the consequences of not following safety tips. Poor Officer Buckle mistakes the audience adulation as being for himself, and so the poor lunk is crushed when he discovers that it is Gloria whom the kids love.
Fear not, though: A happy ending awaits. This 11-minute, 44-second short is funny and charming, with John Lithgow at his droll best as the voiceover narrator.
"Dot the Fire Dog" -- written and illustrated by Lisa Desimini
The weakest of the four main shorts, "Dot the Fire Dog" is still pleasant enough to justify its eight-minute, 39-second running time. Unlike the other animated bits, it employs static illustrations to mirror the experience of thumbing through the actual Lisa Desimini picture book. As you might suspect, the story follows the exploits of a fearless firehouse Dalmatian who helps saves old people and kittens and such.
The DVD includes two worthwhile "bonus" tales.
"I Want a Dog" -- written and illustrated by Dayal Kaur Khalsa
I'd put this short right up there with "Harry the Dirty Dog" and "Officer Buckle." The story concerns an impressively persistent girl named May, who, as you might infer from the title, wants a pooch. Her parents resist, saying she isn't old enough to handle the responsibility, and so May sets out to prove them wrong by taking care of her rollerskate. Clocking in just past 10 minutes, the animation is engaging and the colors vibrant. There are nifty songs performed by alt-country singer-songwriter Neko Case and clever visual puns, including a riff on the Georges Seurat painting, "Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte."
"Angus Lost" -- based on the book by Marjorie Flack
This dialogue-free film is the sole live-action to be featured on the disc, following a black Scottie terrier who flees home one day for a series of mild adventures. The 11-minute, 16-second short is a sweet-natured diversion, albeit in a low-rent Benji sort of way. It was evidently shot in 1982, but looks much older.
Presented in full-frame, the colors and details are generally good, with very slight grain in spots. The exception is "Angus Lost," which is beset by dirt, minor damage and washed-out colors.
No complaints with the Dolby Digital 2.0 mix - clean, sharp and altogether serviceable. A Spanish-language track is available for "Harry the Dirty Dog."
A read-along feature in which children can follow the stories via subtitles is available for "Harry the Dirty Dog," "No Roses for Harry!" and "Officer Buckle and Gloria." Also included is a trailer for Scholastic Storybook Treasures.
The perfect antidote for so much dross that passes for children's programming, Harry the Dirty Dog ... and More Playful Puppy Stories is a refreshing change of pace. Like the picture books on which they are based, the animated shorts are light, engaging and thoroughly enjoyable. "Officer Buckle and Gloria," "Harry the Dirty Dog" and "I Want a Dog" alone make this a worthy purchase for parents who know they'll be re-watching it many times over.