Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Shaggy D.A. - A Disney film review by Robert Steven Mack

Dean Jones would make his penultimate Disney film in 1976; his last would be "Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo." For 18 years, the Disney "gimmick" comedies had kept audiences entertained with light humour and brilliantly wacky situations that could only happen in a Disney movie! Alas, the world was changing, and Disney would have to change with it. "The Shaggy D. A." would signify that change. Throughout this fabulously funny film you can catch subtly distinct tributes and homages by recycling material from the former glory of Disney and its Hollywood vicinity. It would start with "The Shaggy Dog," produced in the prime of Disney innocence and storytelling; a time when the late Mr. Disney himself was still alive. It is therefore only fitting that it would end the same way.

Seventeen years after "The Shaggy Dog" hit the theaters out grossing even William Wyler's "Ben Hur," the story of the shaggy dog was expanded with "The Shaggy D. A." Continuing Disney's tradition of all-star casting, we have such glittery comedic talents as Dean Jones, Tim Conway, Suzanne Pleshette, Keenan Wynn, Jo Ann Worley, Dick Van Patten and John Fielder, as well as Shane Sinutko, Vic Tayback, and Pat McCormick. It was written by Don Tait. Wilby Daniels (Dean Jones) is all grown up and has taken on such responsibilities as family and law. However, then the mythical Borgia ring, that's responsible for turning Wilby into a dog in the past, has been stolen. And with the notorious inscription being read aloud, Wilby gets a strong case of deja-vous as he once again begins to turn into a dog. A riotous comic funfest with the contagious antics of Tim Conway and Jo Ann Worley, and not to forget Suzanne Pleshette and Mr. Van Patten alone make this film worth the ninety minutes. This is topped off by Disney's classic villain and leading man (Wynn and Jones) up against each other for the second and final time.

The film itself is the last big dive for "gimmick comedies" and a farewell to the days when Disney Studios, now an established money-maker, was young. The film includes the recycled idea of a group of death-row dogs digging their way out of their uncomfortable confinement. That particular scene has a darker more heavy mood than the rest of the film. Comic relief is offered only by dogs voices resembling that of Humphrey Bogart, Peter Lorre, James Cagney and other stars of a gone era. It is ultimately a homage and tribute to the good old times; a quick last glimpse into the time of Hollywood's youth. Also, the ending resembles that of "That Darn Cat" (1965-also with Dean Jones, as we see the Wilby family wave good-bye to the ice-cream man and his new bride (Tim Conway and Jo Ann Worley)...walking into the sun-set with a trail of dogs behind them to leave a new legacy behind.

Aided by his henchman (Mr. Van Patten) Keenen Wynn plays John Slade (a role similar to that of his famed Alonzo Hawk), a corrupt District Attorney Wilby runs against in the reelection. By the way, it all plays out in the familiar town of Medfield, the land of Professor Brainard, the land of Kurt Russel's college films of the sixties and seventies. (see my preceding blogs) Robert Stevenson, who had helmed some of Disney's most popular and enduring classics - "Mary Poppins," "Bedknobs and Broomsticks," "The Love Bug," "That Darn Cat," "Old Yeller," "The Absent-minded Professor etc. - since 1957's "Johnny Tremain," would make his farewell with this film further signifying the end of an era.

Still, this would not be the last "gimmick comedy" Disney would release. Films such as "Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo" (1977), "The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again"(1979), "The Cat from Outer Space" (1978), "Gus" (1976), "Herbie Goes Bananas"(1980), and perhaps a few others (mostly sequels) were produced, yet usually without much success. "Herbie Goes Bananas" tries in vain to be like the films of its reputable past; alas without paying attention to what time had produced nor heeding to time itself...

Anyways, Tim Conway is hilarious, Shane Sinutlki is multifarious, while Dean Jones is multigarious! Whereas it is hard to believe that Wilby Daniels was once that mixed-up teenager from the fifties, this film is a must-see for anyone who appreciates good old Disney comedy!

"Gus" will be next!

Cheers, "R"

Copyright 2011 by Robert Steven Mack (all rights reserved!)

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