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  Shaggy Dog, The Collaring The Crims
Year: 1959
Director: Charles Barton
Stars: Fred MacMurray, Jean Hagen, Tommy Kirk, Annette Funicello, Tim Considine, Kevin Corcoran, Cecil Kellaway, Alexander Scourby, Roberta Shore, James Westerfield, Strother Martin, Forrest Lewis, Ned Wever, Gordon Jones, Jacques Aubuchon
Genre: Comedy, FantasyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: If there's one thing retired mailman Wilson Daniels (Fred MacMurray) hates, it's dogs, they make him come out in a rash at the very thought of them, mainly thanks to the trouble they gave him when he was on his rounds. He's saying as much to his wife Freeda (Jean Hagen) at the kitchen table when there's a loud rumbling from the basement where their sons Wilby (Tommy Kirk) and Moochie (Kevin Corcoran) are conducting an experiment in rocket science which gets out of hand, so much so that their missile takes off and smashes through the roof...

But what does that have to do with a shaggy dog? It's sort of connected to the developments in the last half hour, but in the main, it was simply to establish Wilby as a clever kid which would explain his ingenuity later on. Why does he need to be ingenious? That was to do with the fantasy element to this, the first live action Disney movie to be a comedy, and very influential in that field, not least for tapping into a seam of profitable, similar productions which littered cinemas for decades, though the reason for their popularity would have been more connected with very little competition able to do likewise.

The joke about The Shook-Up Shopping Cart from Joe Dante's Matinee was all too accurate, but that's not to say that while the Disney family comedies were far from cool, they were utterly unenjoyable, as The Shaggy Dog proved. The convolutions it took to get star Kirk to turn into a dog were barely recognised, there happened to be a ring belonging to Lucretia Borgia (why her, we ask?) that Wilby accidentally brings home in his trouser turn-up after visiting a museum with his best friend Buzz (Tim Considine) and the French girl Franceska (Roberta Shore) who has recently moved in across the street. They both wish to impress her, although also notable was that Buzz's ostensible girlfriend was played by Annette Funicello, here making her movie debut.

She, like many of the juvenile actors in Disney movies, Kirk and Shore included, had received their showbiz training in Walt's TV shows, and soon Annette was going to eclipse pretty much all of them; here, however, it was a clear introduction she was awarded, so only really got three scenes. Poor old Tommy had probably his best role here outside of Old Yeller, another canine-based effort though that was far from supposed to be funny, though soon scandals about his drug use and homosexuality would put paid to him continuing at the Disney studios in spite of his fame. Here he demonstrated an aptitude for the daffy demands of pretending to be a dog, though much of that was relegated to voiceover in amusing scenes where Wilby talks and the pooch's mouth moves.

Or at least the puppet pooch's mouth moves, for there were a few tricks director Charles Barton (a veteran of Abbott and Costello comedies) and his team used to make the magic come to life, which while simple were surprisingly well done. Although the vintage Disney efforts were likely to be looked down on by most movie buffs, seen as far too conservative to bring about much in the manner of entertainment, The Shaggy Dog would give them paws, sorry, pause, as there were many scenes here so completely foolish all in the name of getting a laugh that this is precisely what they achieved. The part everyone who saw this recalls would be when the spy subplot gets going, leading to the grand finale where Wilby chases the evildoers in a car - while in his doggy form. I ask you, when is the sight of a dog driving a car never funny? Well, it assuredly is here, and even the stoniest faces would crack a smile at the preposterous display. As the nice version of I Was a Teenage Werewolf, this was a lot of fun. Music by Paul J. Smith.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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