Film Review: The Shaggy Dog (1959)
In 1959, Charles Barton released the Disney film, The Shaggy Dog, based on the story, The Hound of Florence by Felix Salten. Starring Tommy Kirk, Fred MacMurray, Jean Hagen, Annette Funicello, Tim Considine, Kevin Corcoran, Cecil Kellaway, Alexander Scourby, Roberta Shore, James Westerfield, Strother Martin, Forrest Lewis, Jack Albertson, Ned Wever, Gordon Jones, Jacques Aubuchon, Paul Frees, and Sam, the film grossed $8.1 million at the box office. It spawned a sequel in 1976, called The Shaggy D. A., a two-part television movie in 1987, a television movie remake in 1994 and a remake in 2006 starring Tim Allen.
Bright but naïve Wilby Daniels is a teenager whose science experiments cause him a lot of trouble. At the same time, his father doesn’t understand him and his friend Buzz Miller takes advantage of him. However, a foreign girl named Francessca moves in next door with her adoptive father, butler and sheepdog. Following a trip to the museum with Francessca and the dog, Wilby discovers a ring that fell into his pocket and allows him to turn into a sheepdog himself. Now, he must perform an act of heroism or the transformation will come and go unpredictably.
While it was one of the highest-grossing Disney films of the 1950s, The Shaggy Dog really isn’t all that great of a film. It has some good ideas and a great concept, but outside of the humor, the film largely falls very flat. The initial idea of a boy who turns back and forth into a dog at random intervals can be fodder for a film that could go in many different directions. However, it feels like the film chose to try all those directions instead of sticking with just one. As a result, the final product ends up being a bland mess, with an overall feeling that the filmmakers really didn’t know what they wanted to do. The main plot is Wilby turning into a dog and trying to do something heroic so he can permanently become human again. What should happen is a little bit of trying to figure out what to do while human while working to keep up an air of normalcy and then attempting to do so while a dog. However, what the audience ends up getting is Wilby trying too many times to get out of dog form until he uncovers the espionage plot. It really could have been cut down by at least half an hour
That sense of pacing to try and make the whole film cover the hour and 45 minutes it spans really hurts the film as well. Had the film been about an hour long, with Wilby being introduced, his being turned into a dog happening and then doing some brainstorming before uncovering the aforementioned espionage plot and solving it, it’s possible this film could have been quite a lot better. However, the film waits far too long to bring about Wilby’s initial transformation and then waits far too long for him to stumble upon the plot he uses for his heroic deed. Between these two points, the film just plods along merely attempting to fill time.
But even apart from the pacing and poorly executed plot, the characters aren’t even all that great either. Wilby is just a putz all around, putting up with his friend picking on him and pretty much whining the whole way through when nothing goes his way. At the same time, Buzz and Wilby’s brother, Moochie, are generally annoying and Wilson, Wilby’s father, doesn’t have any redeeming traits at all. Wilson is the first character seen in the film and espouses a severe hatred of dogs because he’s a mailman with an allergy to them and when he finds that his son changes into a dog, he immediately goes to the authorities. By the end of the film he has a change of heart and ends up loving dogs, but only because of public perception due to him getting a commendation for foiling a spy ring. Sure he has a supposed realization that his hatred of dogs hasn’t gotten him anywhere, but with the way the character has acted throughout, that doesn’t feel quite genuine.
Notably, what this film is remembered for the most isn’t its plot, but its humor, seen at one point when Wilby launches a rocket through his house and flatly says he wishes he was on it after getting a glare from Wilson. Honestly, the film does succeed with most of its humor with the most memorable funny moment being the final chase where Wilby steals Buzz’s car as a dog and follows the spies. Two cops alert their chief that they’re chasing a dog who stole a car and the chief sends two other officers to arrest them with Wilby then taking the car belonging to the first two officers. It’s a great, humorous and memorable moment in an otherwise forgettable film.
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