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The Shaggy Dog: The Wild & Woolly Edition DVD Review

"The Shaggy Dog" (1959) movie poster The Shaggy Dog

Theatrical Release: March 19, 1959 / Running Time: 101 Minutes / Rating: G

Director: Charles Barton

Cast: Fred MacMurray (Wilson Daniels), Jean Hagen (Frieda Daniels), Tommy Kirk (Wilby Daniels), Annette Funicello (Allison D'Allessio), Tim Considine (Buzz Miller), Kevin Corcoran (Moochie Daniels), Cecil Kellaway (Professor Plumcutt), Alexander Scourby (Dr. Mikhail Andrassy), Roberta Shore (Franceska Andrassy), James Westerfeld (Officer Hanson), Strother Martin (Thurm), Forrest Lewis (Officer Kelly), Ned Wever (E.P. Hackett), Gordon Jones (Captain Scanlon), Jacques Aubuchon (Stefano), Paul Frees (Narrator, J.W. Galvin, uncredited)

Walt Disney's earliest forays into the world of live action cinema did not much fit the mold of what would eventually constitute "a typical live action Disney film." In the first eighteen years he dabbled in the medium, there were a few partially-animated productions (Song of the South, So Dear To My Heart), a piece of wartime propaganda (Victory Through Air Power), straight-faced adventures (including two films edited from Davy Crockett anthology episodes), ambitious literary adaptations (Treasure Island, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Old Yeller), and several nature documentaries billed "True Life Adventures" (among them, The Vanishing Prairie and The African Lion). By his death in 1966, Walt was well-known for his studio's legacy in animated features and shorts, for the unprecedented change he brought the amusement park with Disneyland, for the innovative ways he made use of television, and for making a certain type of live action film. This last trademark often dealt with families and the fantastic, and more often than not, they offered broad strokes of comedy.

Retrospectively, it may be surprising that Walt spent 18 years making live action films before bringing a comedy to theaters. But in fact, The Shaggy Dog, which can accurately be labeled Walt's debut in the specific genre/medium combo, was being considered for big screen treatment as early as 1941. That would have made it the first live action Disney film of all (something that this DVD case inaccurately bills it anyway), but World War II came and so did a number of assorted projects to occupy Walt's mind. The project resurfaced in the late 1950s and
was proposed to ABC (which broadcast Walt's weekly "Disneyland" program as well as "The Mickey Mouse Club" and "Zorro") as a television series. When the network rejected the idea, Walt and company decided to make it into a modestly-produced feature film, one which could potentially showcase the popular young stars of "The Mickey Mouse Club" and its serials.

Appropriately enough considering these origins, Walt laid heavy responsibilities for The Shaggy Dog with Bill Walsh, the key figure behind the cameras of "The Mickey Mouse Club" and the man who had directed and produced much of Disney's early television content. This would be only Walsh's second feature film screenplay (following a tiny Mexico-based picture called The Littlest Outlaw), but this would become a position he regularly assumed in subsequent years, penning scripts for films like Mary Poppins, The Love Bug, and Bedknobs and Broomsticks. On Shaggy Dog, he and co-writer Lillie Hayward (who had worked regularly since the silent era but had only recently come to Disney) would be guided by The Hound of Florence, a 1930 novel written by Felix Salten, the Austrian author of another important Disney adaptation, Bambi (as well as 1957's "True Life Fantasy" Perri). Salten's fantastic tale would receive a "suggested by" credit and an in-character mention within the film. Charles Barton, another man experienced in television fare with "Leave It to Beaver" plus Disney's "Zorro" and "Spin and Marty" among his preceding credits, assumed the director's chair.

Wilson Daniels (Fred MacMurray) is not pleased with either the antics or smart-alecky coments of his teenaged son Wilby (Tommy Kirk). Wilby and local rounder Buzz Miller (Tim Considine) meet the worldly Franceska Andrassy (Roberta Shore) and her mustachioed father Mikhail (Alexander Scourby).

In the film, Wilby Daniels (Tommy Kirk, in his second of more than a dozen leading roles in Disney features) is a fairly ordinary teenage boy, whose hobbies and adolescent curiosities have more disastrous effects than most. In his first moments on screen, his basement tinkerings with a missile interceptor produce seismic results and leave a large hole in each level of the family's house up through the roof. Needless to say, this does not please his father Wilson (Fred MacMurray, rescued from box office despair and small-scale Westerns in his first of seven Disney films), a grumpy postal employee (on an apparently light work schedule) who loathes dogs. Mr. Daniels commands his son to clear the basement of the experiments and oddities it holds.

Like much of The Shaggy Dog, this point is not dwelled upon nor does it seem essential to the whole. Wilby shifts his interest to girls, namely the pretty new neighbor (Roberta Shore) who shows up speaking in French and accompanied by a gigantic Bratislavian sheepdog. Her name is Franceska, the dog's name is Chiffon, and both figure largely in the events to come. Wilby is no match for Buzz Miller (Tim Considine, Kirk's fellow Hardy Boy), a fast-driving, fast-talking teen who can seemingly get all the stars to align with his slick moves. Accordingly, Buzz skillfully gets out of paying back the $7 he owes Wilby and choreographs a double date all to himself with both Franceska and the less exotic but nice Allison D'Allessio (Annette Funicello, the most famous of all Mouseketeers, in her film debut) for a dance at the neighborhood country club.

For Wilby, his problems quickly escalate from the ordinary (fumbling for girls and raising his father's ire) to the extraordinary, when he begins to be transformed into the woolly Chiffon, thanks to a ring he accidentally acquires from a local museum and some Borgia black magic. The temporary transmutations, of course, create comedic complications, as Wilby must hide his new appearance from his anti-canine father. Wilby gets some advice from Professor Plumcutt (Cecil Kellaway), from whose museum exhibit the spirit ring originated. Wilby also gets some help from his younger brother Moochie (played by -- who else? -- Kevin "Moochie" Corcoran), though Moochie's more excited by the prospect of having a dog. But when it turns out that Russian spies are among the residents of Daniels' seemingly ideal small town, it's all up to Wilby to save the day, because of course the authorities do not take Mr. Daniels' truthful reports seriously. That's not too surprising. I mean, really, how often do police officers get portrayed as being adept in Disney films? (Yet, it's the flight attendants who object to Flightplan.)

Looks like Wilby is having a bad hair day! At least this shaggy dog knows the importance of oral hygiene.

Anyway, you've probably already seen The Shaggy Dog at some point over the past forty-seven years. If not, you've seen at least some of the Disney films that were inspired by it. To go into more plot specifics would be unnecessary, especially since the film unravels as a series of somewhat expected twists. Nonetheless, it largely succeeds, at least, until its conclusion. There, it falters with what would become the requisite police chase and an abrupt, unsatisfying wrap-up to its Russian spy storyline.

For all the time I spent talking about how this was Walt's first comedy, it's not an overwhelmingly funny film. In fact, there are only a few hearty laughs in the 101-minute runtime. Still, large audiences lapped it up in 1959, making it one of the year's highest-grossing films. Inevitably, its success paved the way for Walt to usher in many more domestic family comedies with wacky elements. The 1960s were replete with these types of movies, which outnumbered the studio's animated output many times over. Critics were not always amused, but the public often was and such formula-based sensibilities remained in place several years after Walt passed on.

The Shaggy Dog is a prime example of the live action Disney comedy done right. Even though it's not overly humorous due to its design or the passing of decades, it is a lot of fun. The cast hits its marks, the plotting and pacing serve the greater picture well in spite of a penchant for meandering, and even the visual effects hold up surprisingly well to the point where you're at a loss to determine if a real dog is on screen or not, even when it's talking.

Is Wilson Daniels crazy? Just a little confused? Does he really work for the Post Office? Tommy Kirk probably got the day off on scenes involving his canine self. Here, Wilby/Chiffon pants in the bushes with Moochie (Kevin Corcoran).

Though the teenage cast members seem a bit younger than the ages they are playing, the appealing lot of actors compiled here make up something of an all-star team of Disney talent. A fun exercise to do is to consider the countless different ways in which members of the cast and crew are connected. Most of it is through Disney and as mentioned earlier, the young actors were previously known for their work on "The Mickey Mouse Club" and its serials. Corcoran and Kirk would team up four more
times (thrice as brothers, one of which offered MacMurray as their father). On the side of many more Disney flicks, MacMurray played Considine's father on the long-running sitcom "My Three Sons." Kirk and Funicello would again co-star in two TV movies and three theatrical releases for Disney, plus an additional two works for another studio amidst their respective beach bikini movie phases. And so on, and so on...

One of the very few black and white movies that Disney made, The Shaggy Dog is also one of the last major Disney movies to finally make its DVD debut. (Though, most of the less beloved live action productions which predate it are still yet to be found on disc.) Its distinguished status is indisputable, having been treated to a 1967 reissue as part of a double bill with The Absent Minded Professor, a major 1976 theatrical sequel, a 1987 made-for-TV sequel, a 1994 made-for-TV remake, and this week, a big screen remake starring Tim Allen which sounds closer in plot to the '76 sequel The Shaggy D.A.. While Buena Vista Home Entertainment hasn't seen this week's long-awaited DVD debuts of the original Shaggy Dog and The Shaggy D.A. an occasion worth promoting, they have at least bestowed upon them some special bonus features in addition to silly, needless edition names. The pair was actually announced for August 2004 release, with the original being billed a 45th Anniversary Edition, but it was delayed for synergy purposes that are logical but not fully maximized. In any event, the 18-month delay has resulted in a few changes from what was originally announced, but the two films are still given superb presentations.

Buy The Shaggy Dog: The Wild & Woolly Edition DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

1.75:1 Anamorphic Widescreen (Original Black & White),
1.33:1 Reformatted Fullscreen (Colorized)
Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English, French)
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Closed Captioned
Release Date: March 7, 2006
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $19.99
White Keepcase with Side Snaps

VIDEO and AUDIO

The Shaggy Dog appears in its original black and white palette in a fine 1.75:1 16x9-enhanced widescreen transfer. The picture quality is quite satisfying for a film nearly as old as Disneyland. It's not quite perfect, but print flaws and intrusions are kept to an extreme minimum. The framing looks right, which can't exactly be stated for the similarly-presented but two-years-older Old Yeller. The element is sufficiently sharp and clear and fortunately, the disc's offering of dual versions hasn't resulted in any noticeable excess in compression. Wisely, the slightly higher bitrate is given to this format, which remains faithful to the film's initial theatrical presentation.

Also included is a second version which seems tailored for those who have little regard for video quality and upholding how a film was theatrically presented. It is a colorized print which displays the film in 1.33:1 "fullscreen." This version appears to be open matte - it gains a bit of picture at the top and bottom, while losing a bit less on the sides. Though the open matte transfer may have been a valid viewing option for some, the colorization process renders it much less so. While today's technology can probably achieve something a little more natural-looking, this appears to be an old and fairly garish job. Accordingly, the picture quality suffers from the work, leaving its best purpose as a curiosity viewing of a scene or an argument against colorizing black-and-white films despite it being the disc's top listing. It's also more beat-up than the theatrical presentation, another shortcoming that can probably be attributed to the source or perhaps to the fact that print intrusions are more noticeable when the film is in color.

Slightly more picture width and a considerably more pleasing image is offered in the 1.75:1 widescreen black and white presentation. If garish colors and more picture than intended are your thing, then you'll probably want to watch the bad-looking fullscreen version. This one screencap doesn't do justice to how distractingly awful the colorization job looks.

Though the front and back covers clearly state that the colorized version is supposed to run 10 minutes shorter than the theatrical cut (presumably employing a shortened television broadcast), they actually each amount to the same length of just over 1 hour and 41 minutes.

The soundtrack is two-channel Dolby Digital Mono, which leaves me with a lot less to say. Fortunately, the few remarks I have are positive. The dialogue, music, and effects are all crisply and clearly presented, with no signs of distortion or aging. A French version is also provided; curiously, this version loses the element of vocals in the opening theme song and also dubs over Franceska's intermittent use of French.

Tim Considine and Roberta Shore make up half of "The Shaggy Dog Kids" who appear. The hand gesture would indicate an importance to what Tommy Kirk is saying about Fred MacMurray and other topics in the two featurettes in which he appears. The Main Menu can't decide if it wants to use the poster artwork or black and white photography. Either choice is better than the temporary cover artwork which was lost.

BONUS FEATURES and MENUS

"The Shaggy Dog Kids" (12:25), the first of two featurettes, catches up with almost all of the prominent young cast members from the movie. Featured in individual 2004 interviews are Tommy Kirk, Kevin Corcoran, Tim Considine, and Roberta Shore. They recall working with one another, their adult co-stars, the writer, director, and other aspects of the film. Memories from production, the high-grossing performance, and other observations are complemented by lots of clips from the film in this interesting piece. (The lone absence, Annette Funicello, hasn't appeared on camera in recent years due to her battle with multiple sclerosis.)

Next is "Fred MacMurray - With Fondness" (7:50), a brief tribute to the actor who starred in The Shaggy Dog and six subsequent Disney films, in addition to holding lead roles in decorated dramas Double Indemnity, The Caine Mutiny and The Apartment. Only the Disney ones are in focus, and the interview subjects are individuals who the studio caught up with for this and other DVDs. Among those who reflect on their respective movie memories of working with MacMurray are Lesley Ann Warren, John Davidson, songwriter Dick Sherman (all from The Happiest Millionaire, though their comments were taped for the MacMurray-less One and Only...Family Band); from The Shaggy Dog, Kirk, Corcoran, and Considine; and for no reason other than he spoke on The Shaggy D.A., Dick Van Patten.
Naturally, this is a very flattering retrospective - even Kirk's story about MacMurray's temper is not repeated. About as edgy as it gets is Considine disputing claims of the actor's parsimonious nature. While not groundbreaking and briefer than one would like, Disney fans should appreciate the piece's use of clips from all his Disney movies.

Last and most substantial is a four-party feature length audio commentary, which is available only on the black & white version. It is clear that the group has been recorded in two separate pairs: "Tom" Kirk and his oft-cinematic brother Kevin Corcoran, Tim Considine and one of his Shaggy Dog love interests, Roberta Shore. The majority of time is spent with Kirk and Corcoran, and though they have plenty of interesting anecdotes, their familiarity with the film and their memories of making it are both lacking. For instance, they claim it is the first film they made together, even though Old Yeller predated it by more than a year. The track is perhaps most poignant when Corcoran and Kirk talk about things that aren't specific to this film, namely the different directors they had on their Disney projects, the other movies they made for the studio, recurring elements and characters, and so on. Their insights on Shaggy are intermittent and occasionally suspect, such as the claim that the movie was bound to be two TV anthology installments until halfway through production. Still, it's fascinating to hear how little interaction the pair had with Walt and they even reveal how certain scenes with the titular canine were achieved (a mix of Tommy's 10-year-old brother Johnny in a dog suit and a very capable sheepdog). Considine and Shore either did not have had much to say or had most of their remarks edited. Her infrequent contributions are candid but mildly superficial, while his computer analogies and stories of working with MacMurray on "My Three Sons" are fairly compelling. Overall, one comes away with less from this commentary than hoped for from this forgetful foursome. Still, beyond the frequent gushing at MacMurray's acting, the rampant name-dropping, and fuzzy recollections, there is some level of enlightenment which those who appreciate both the audio commentary format and this film should enjoy.

One supplement mentioned in the initial 2004 announcement that didn't make the cut is a making-of featurette simply called "The Shaggy Dog." One hopes that the press release was in error, but there is definitely a little room for a general production piece to have been placed here. The content here also falls quite a bit short of the fantastic two-disc Vault Disney/Special Edition sets that the studio's most beloved live action films were treated to years ago. Trailers, galleries, archival audio and a 1959 Disney Studio Album video yearbook, would have been appreciated. As would have an excerpt from the 90-minute special "Disneyland '59" (which featured appearances by Kirk, Corcoran, MacMurray, Funicello, Considine, and Shore), if footage could be located. Or a piece on the many incarnations of The Shaggy Dog, since the two made-for-TV movies seem unlikely to come to home video or receive television airings anytime soon. But while one can point out other things that would have made nice inclusions, it's ultimately pointless to lament there isn't more here. At least, there are several supplements.

Unlike the majority of today's Disney DVDs, this one opens with no previews for the studio's other properties. That anomaly is not unwelcome but it seems especially befuddling considering that this DVD was delayed for over a year and a half seemingly to coincide with the release of the Tim Allen remake. The 2006 release oddly goes entirely unmentioned on the DVD, its insert and keepcase. It might have been nice to at least provide its theatrical trailer (which is bound to not show up on its summer DVD), but customers would be somewhat at a loss to request corporate synergy beyond that. It's unfortunate that a trailer for this original Shaggy Dog is also nowhere to be found. Those vintage promos are typically a lot of fun to see.

The 16x9-enhanced menus employ a mix of artwork from the film's posters and stills from the film itself. It might have been cool to just go the route of the poster's imagery, but the selected hybrid is fitting enough. No animation is found, but all the pages employ instrumentals. Oddly, though you must choose black & white or colorized before entering scene selection, the still scene previews are in black and white either way.

Father and son share an awkward conversation. Drive, Shaggy, drive!

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Fans of Disney's live action films have all too often seen their favorites take a long time to arrive on DVD, only to show up in a fullscreen transfer with no bonus features whatsoever. While The Shaggy Dog took quite a bit longer than most films to land on disc, the wait seems acceptable, as Walt's first all-out comedy is treated to a delightful widescreen transfer and three worthwhile bonus features. Most will find the colorized fullscreen version useful only for a curious excerpt, but it's both rare and nice that the studio attempted to serve all demographics in this release. Furthermore, puzzling though it may be, the fact that the studio's Tim Allen remake goes entirely unmentioned (outside of the clearly deliberate timing) may be something worth applauding. After all, synergistic space-wasting supplements on it are uncalled for with an entire second version of the film offered.

Back to the subject at hand, The Shaggy Dog is one of the easiest DVDs of a Walt-Era live action film to recommend, based on the strengths of the film, the quality of the presentation, and the value of the bonus material. This disc isn't quite as wonderful as the old two-disc Vault Disney sets, but it's the best the studio has given one of its live action works in over a year.

More on this DVD / Buy from Amazon.com



The book: The Hound of Florence: A Novel by Felix Salten

Related Reviews:
Sequel: The Shaggy D.A. | 2006 Remake: The Shaggy Dog
Disney in 1959
Sleeping Beauty Darby O'Gill and the Little People Third Man on the Mountain

Other Disney Movies & Shows Featuring the Cast and Crew of The Shaggy Dog
The Absent-Minded Professor Bon Voyage! Old Yeller & Savage Sam: 2-Movie Collection
Swiss Family Robinson Son of Flubber Toby Tyler, or Ten Weeks With a Circus
Walt Disney Treasures: The Mickey Mouse Club The Best of The Mickey Mouse Club The Misadventures of Merlin Jones
Bambi Walt Disney Treasures: Elfego Baca & The Swamp Fox - Legendary Heroes Babes in Toyland
The Happiest Millionaire Follow Me, Boys! Pollyanna

Famous Other Disney Dogs
The Ugly Dachshund Lady and the Tramp: Platinum Edition My Dog, The Thief Big Red
Walt Disney Treasures: The Complete Pluto, Volume 1 Benji the Hunted Greyfriars Bobby

Related Page:
The Shaggy Dog in UltimateDisney.com's Top 30 Live Action Disney Films Countdown

UltimateDisney.com | DVD Reviews Index | Classic Live Action (Pre-1980) Films Page | Top Live Action Disney Films Countdown

Reviewed March 6, 2006.