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Tommy Kirk, Annette Funicello and some crappy Baby Boomer nostalgia – Walt Disney’s Shaggy Dog (Four Color #985)

May 22, 2012

Perhaps one of the more puerile Walt Disney live action offerings, The Shaggy Dog was a substantial box office success for the Mouse. This 1959 talking dog flick featured turns from child stars Tommy Kirk and Annette Funicello, as well as My Three Sons padre Fred MacMurray, one of those 1960s fathers who had a pipe glued to his mouth and a closet full of bathrobes. Several sequels and remakes have followed the shaggy original over the years, including one in 2006 that had Robert Downey Jr. in a supporting role, amidst his pre-Iron Man, post-57th rehab walk of shame.

It’s had a long shelf life. Huzzah.

Let’s not mince words here: ALL VERSIONS OF THIS TALKING DOG PREMISE ARE STUPID BEYOND THE POWER OF WORDS TO DESCRIBE. Yes, they’re family movies, but there are plenty of kid-friendly movies that don’t make everyone who’s old enough for a driver’s license want to lop off their own head. Like a story about a sex-starved teenage Aunt May, I’m not in the target demographic for fiction of this sort, but I can’t help thinking of Artie Lange’s mocking critique of this genre on The Howard Stern Show. “How can a dog be a district attorney? And where did it learn sarcasm? YARYARYARYAR!”

In an odd twist, the comic adaptation comes off as less obnoxious than the source material. The wan Tommy Kirk smirks are less egregious on the printed page, I guess. But it’s still dopey as all get out.

Kirk’s character, Wilby Daniels, is a whiz kid whose schemes, with brother “Moochie” (a recurring Disney character, played by Kevin Corcoran) at his side, often run afoul of their curmudgeonly father (MacMurray). And Dad is, get this, allergic to dogs. In fact, he hates dogs. Wait, but this is a story about a dog — it says so in the title. OH MAN THIS IS GOING TO BE GREAT. Wilby moons over Funicello’s young lass, who’s also pursued by Wilby’s best friend. Things get crazy when a father and daughter move in across the street, they have a dog, and Kirk accidentally carries away a cursed ring from a museum, and said ring puts him in the body of the new pooch on the block.

Got that? Good, because that’s all the setup that I can stomach.

Here’s the first transformation sequence, as Wilby becomes the dog that just moved in next door:

Perhaps the most annoying aspect of the storyline is that the new “father” neighbor isn’t really the girl’s father at all (some loosely explained adoption or something), but a spy set on stealing sensitive missile information. And, of course, Wilby’s new canine persona is perfectly suited for eavesdropping:

It all builds up to a final chase, with, yes, a dog driving a car. Films with great vehicle pursuits, like Ronin and Bullitt, have nothing to fear rankings-wise from this one:

This adaptation was scripted by Eric Freiwald and Robert Schaefer, while Dan Spiegle handled the art. No complaints on this front, as they couldn’t exactly have gone to town creatively while boxed in by the screen shenanigans. You know what? The art is actually half-decent. So there’s that.

I love dogs. I hate movies like this. I’m not fond of this book. Maybe I’m a stick in the mud. Always possible. If there are any Baby Boomers out there reading this for whom The Shaggy Dog is a fond walk down memory lane, here’s a pin-up with the young stars of the film and their senses-shattering autographs (Annette’s is appropriately bubbly). Feel free to tack it to your bedroom wall:

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