Produced in 1989 for "The Jim Henson Hour," 'Dog City" is a humble bit of Henson brilliance, taking the viewer into a gangland community populated with canines of all shapes and sizes. It's film noir with a fluffy tail, graciously indulging Henson's taste for vaudeville comedy and pun-filled scripting. Though bizarre in retrospect, the show is frequently hilarious and impressively constructed, providing yet another reason to miss Jim Henson's creativity and style terribly.
Entering Dog City is Ace Yu (voiced by Kevin Clash), a hound with a deed to the local bar, looking to rebuild his life. Standing in is way is mobster Bugsy Them (Jim Henson), who controls the city and doesn't take kindly to outsiders. Refusing to back down to Bugsy's demands, Ace looks to a kind stranger named Colleen (Fran Brill) for guidance, with the two developing a romance as Bugsy endeavors to gun them both down and reclaim his dominance.
Taking inspiration from the great gangster sagas of cinema, "Dog City" is a carefully studied farce that replaces hard men and wiseacre dames with canine characters, set loose inside a tribute to the mobster mood of the 1940s. It's a fantastically silly romp narrated by Muppet stalwart Rowlf the Dog, who guides the audience through an obstacle course of jokes and puns, keeping the mood light through a healthy dose of self-referential dialogue.
Directed by Henson, "Dog City" takes great delight in retaining canine behaviors with these characters, who banter and crack wise, but also bark and obey. In Dog City, Bugsy doesn't humiliate his enemies with a slap across the face, instead he beats his rivals with a rolled up newspaper, all the while making sure his tail is immaculately groomed. With milk bone street vendors and howling cops, the best gags in the show are dog-based, with Henson having a grand time tinkering with the genre's formula to suit a community of comedic pooches.
Keeping to Henson's sense of humor, the jokes in "Dog City" lean toward the adult end of the spectrum, while retaining needed silliness to keep kids invested. It's a clever script that enjoys the fine art of rehashing old jokes, with multiple variations on "Who's On First?" to symbolize Henson's vision for this odd program. It's hoary stuff, but delivered with snappy timing and splendid screen energy, befitting a Henson production.
With a full frame presentation, "Dog City" suffers from a lack of an exhaustive restoration. Instead, the DVD looks like a rescued copy of an old T.V. show that was shot on video, with the image slightly smeary, unable to take any push of direct light. Colors are full, but the overall experience remains muted and flavorless.
The 2.0 sound mix fits the television origins as well, pushing everything up front to create a din of voice performers, sound effects, and scoring. The mix is a bit on the clogged side, with a few lines lost when the action heats up, but it remains satisfactory, best with the show's suggestive musical number.
"Original Movie Concept Art" (2:31) offers viewers an opportunity to survey character designs and storyboards from the taping of the program.
"Behind the Scenes Imagery" (:48) provides a few brief shots of Jim Henson on set, directing the action.
Only running 39 minutes, "Dog City" is brisk and brilliantly designed, with a real noir hold to the proceedings that makes the canine fantasy all the more amusing. Ideal for adventurous families on the hunt for entertainment and mandatory for Henson completists, "Dog City" is a thoroughly entertaining, sharply scripted charmer from the master of Muppets.
For further online adventure, please visit brianorndorf.com