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THE SHAGGY DOG

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Fred MacMurray, Jean Hagen, Tommy Kirk, Annette Funicello, Kevin Corcoran, Tim Considine, Roberta Shore
Director:  Charles Barton
Audio:  Dolby Digital Mono
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.75:1 (B&W), Full Frame 1.33:1 (Color)
Studio:  Walt Disney
Features:  See Review
Length:  102 Minutes (B&W), 92 Minutes (Color)
Release Date:  March 7, 2006

“Hey, you mangy cur, COME BACK WITH MY CAR!!”

Film ***

One of Disney’s first live action slapstick comedies has finally made its way to DVD, and by amazing coincidence, just in time to promote the new theatrical remake.  Gee, whoda thunk?

I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for The Shaggy Dog.  As a kid, I even had the book of the movie, complete with film shots.  No, I’m not old enough to remember its original release, but thanks to The Wonderful World of Disney on TV, I had a few chances to take it all in.

It’s a flawed film, but has a charm that more than makes up for the miscues, most of which are really just attempts to enhance and further the plot.  I don’t think they were needed…the simple premise and basic storyline were enough to make the picture a treat.

Wilby Daniels (Kirk) is a kid with problems.  He has a love for science, but not the skills for it, as proven by a rocketing mishap early on.  He has his eye on girls, like any young man, but lacks the guts to do anything about it.  But those are only the beginnings of his troubles.

The real fun begins when he accidentally ends up in possession of an ancient ring belonging to rumored shape-shifters.  He reads the inscription, and becomes…the shaggy dog!  Not just any dog, but the dog belonging to his beautiful new French neighbor Francesca (Shore).

Not only does he have to deal with life as a dog, but he has his father (the always affable MacMurray) to contend with.  His dad is a postman who hates dogs.  What will he think of his son turning into one?

And matters get even more complicated when Wilby the dog finds out that Francesca’s father is a spy planning to steal an important piece of missile technology and ship it out of the country!  Can Wilby enlist the help of his reluctant father, stop the spies and save the girl?  Talk about a dog’s life.

Despite the occasional absurdity of the plot (the bad guy element isn’t even revealed until the movie is half over), The Shaggy Dog has always worked for me, largely because the cast of kids, led by young Master Kirk, is really quite good.  And MacMurray, who became a Disney staple, is absolutely hilarious as the befuddled father.  Props must also go to Jean Hagen, playing the mother (and if you only know her from Singin’ in the Rain, you’ll be surprised to hear she has a normal voice!), and of course, Sam, the dog who was the real star of the picture.  I don’t know if Tommy Kirk was better at playing Sam or vice versa, but it’s good fun trying to figure it out!

This movie has gone through the mills of sequels and TV remakes, and now is about to enter yet another stage with Tim Allen playing the title character.  And I thought only cats had nine lives.  But there’s something about the crazy, goofy formula that just works, or at least it did the first time.  Will The Shaggy Dog be best in show once again, or has the franchise finally gone to the you-know-whats?

Time will tell.  But in the meantime, it was great fun revisiting the original.  Man’s best friend may be a dog, but a funny, charming film about a dog can sometimes come darn close.

Video *** (B&W), ** (Color)

The original black and white version is the way to go.  Though the images sometimes show a bit of flicker and aging artifacts here and there, the overall effect is pleasing.  Detail levels are strong, and the contrast between lighter and darker images has held up well.  The colorized version, on the other hand, looks surprising dingy by comparison.  Plus, it’s not in widescreen, and it has ten minutes chopped out of it.  Don’t tamper with a classic, friends, even if The Shaggy Dog isn’t everyone’s idea of a classic.

Audio **

The mono soundtrack is serviceable, with a bit of dynamic range here and there.  Dialogue is clean and clear and noise levels are minimal to none.  A decent effort.

Features ***

The best extra is a group commentary on the black and white version.  It features Tommy (now Tom) Kirk, Kevin Corcoran, Tim Considine and Roberta Shore.  It’s a very enjoyable listen…a great bit of it is a Fred MacMurray lovefest, but who can blame them…the man was great. 

There are also two featurettes.  One is on the kids of The Shaggy Dog (the same as the commentary participants), and one is a remembrance of Fred MacMurray, featuring the kids and other Disney actors who worked with him over the years.  Very nice and tastefully done.

Summary:

If The Shaggy Dog warmed your bones as a kid, you won’t wait to get your paws on this DVD from Disney.  Thanks to MacMurray, a great cast of kids and one loveable pooch, this film should continue to be a fun family favorite for a long time to come.

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