Thursday, August 4, 2011

"The Shaggy Dog" - a Disney film review by Robert Steven Mack

In the prime of the colourful twentieth century, Disney entertained us with films of adventure, romance, and laughter. Movies so famous and talked about such as "Bambi" or "Pinocchio;" dramatic tales of adventure and peril in films such as "Treasure Island,"The Swiss Family Robinson," and "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea." Then there were the moving tales of love and loyalty in heartfelt films including "Old Yeller" and many other films that do nothing to tarnish the Disney reputation. The late fifties, however, brought about a new type of movie magic for Disney that fellow merry men could play with. Something that they had not exactly toyed with before. A little something that included riotus and off-beat situations, as well as wacky outcomes that only - and I repeat only - Disney could come up with!

An era dawned. An era that we all grew up with or that our fathers grew up with and that our father's father had gratifyingly been able to see. It was the era of happy families and friends going to their local theater to see the 2 o'clock double-bill martinee. Perhaps to catch a Merlin Jones movie with Tommy Kirk or a Herbie comedy starring Dean Jones. It was an era that would sadly end approximately twenty years after it had come. And this great era of fun-filled Disney comedies dawned on the very day that the film "The Shaggy Dog" was released.

"The Shaggy Dog," loosely based on the classic tale of love and sorcery "The Hound of Florence" by Felix Salton is a Disney comedy film starring an abundance of Disney regulars, including: Fred MacMurray ("Double Indemnity," "The Apartment," "The Absent-Minded Professor"), Dean Hagen ("Singing in the Rain," "Adam's Rib"), Tommy Kirk ("Old Yeller," "Swiss Family Robinson," "Son of Flubber," Merlin Jones movies), Roberta Shore, and Cecil Halloway. The film is about teenaged Wilby Daniels who by accidental possession of a mystified old ring is turned into a dog by means of ancient sorcery and only be returned to his rightful place as a human by an act of true bravery. Bravery is which he attempts to do when he discovers a spy ring headquartered across the street. Brisk and superb performances are given by Fred MacMurray, Annette Funicello, Roberta Shore, Cecil Halloway, Tommy Kirk, Kevin Corcoran, and Tim Considine. While all these actors deliver performances that make the movie strong and extremely enjoyable to watch, I believe it is the latter three that drive the show. As an avid fan of Tommy Kirk, I can safely assert that his performance as the terribly misplaced Wilby Daniels is clean and full of depth as well as understanding of the character portrayed. This is also the very reason why he is underestimated by many viewers. Figuratively speaking, Kevin Corcoran sits at the steering wheel with Fred MacMurray hanging on from the back of the car, while Tommy Kirk is locked up in the trunk and Jean Hagen is making the boys salami sandwiches... And Tim Considine's performance as the conniving and conceited best friend of Wilby - is a riot to watch and almost steals the show. Of course, the shaggy dog's many tricks and abilities used in the film was quite impressive and sure to amuse the viewer. In sum, the film is brimming with one wacky situation after another and is clearly a genuine Disney-style movie.

As Kevin Corcoran stated on the commentary to the DVD, the film's jarring complexity is submerged in a film filled with wacky humor and the pace and tone of a wacky 50's comedy. It is a distinct mixture of Disney comedy, spy thriller, fantasy, teen love stories and suburban comedy humor by the film's adult that leads to a far more complex farce, mixed with 50's cultural change and a Cold War signature. In this way, it is a film of its time. Still, one thing will always remain the same: the timeless Disney movie magic that has something for everyone.

"The Shaggy Dog" set the stardard for the comedies yet to come. Many would go unnoticed to the modern day public eye. Others, like "The Absent-Minded Professor," "That Darn Cat," "The Love Bug" to name a few would go on to become true classics. "Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo" (1977) is perhaps the last of these great films to successfully carry on the standard of these comedies while staying in the now out-dated innocence and craftsmanship of the orginal classics. Naturally, with the growing effects of time and cultural norms, this special genre is now "extinct." Luckily, we have the films safe and sound in homes across the world and vaults across the Disney empire. I would encourage Disney to release rarities not yet released on home video to be seen and enjoyed by the public eye - although they can keep some things secret.

"The Shaggy Dog" (1959) was followed years later by "The Shaggy D.A." (1976) starring Dean Jones, Suzanne Plecette, Tim comway, and Keenan Wynn and will be the next Disney film - after "Monkeys Go Home! - that I shall review.

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

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