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STUDIO: Lions Gate
RATED: Not Rated
RUNNING TIME: 40 minutes
• Concept Art
• Behind the scenes photos
Jim Henson sets a world record for the most puns ever in 40 minutes.
Kevin Clash, Dave Goelz, Kathryn Mullen, Steve Whitmire, Jim Henson
Director: Jim Henson
Jim Henson’s love of bad puns and silly sight gags reaches its pinnacle in this short parody of film noir, featuring a 100% dog puppet cast.
The Jim Henson Hour seems fairly forgotten at this point. My own fuzzy childhood half-memories of the short-lived TV anthology (inspired by the classic Walt Disney Presents of ole) are just images of Henson introducing the show standing next to a giant white lion puppet. Why the series isn’t on DVD, I’m not sure, but judging from the quality of Dog City, Henson fans are missing out.
Oddly, I first saw Dog City on the big screen, paired with The Great Muppet Caper as part of a Jim Henson retrospective. Dog City blew my fucking mind. I’ve always loved Henson’s penchant for what I call “dad jokes” (groan worthy puns and bad jokes told with a self-aware, shameless zeal). The short film made a perfect pairing with GMC, the Empire Strikes Back of the original Muppet trilogy, and it was a fascinating viewing experience. I saw it with a large group of friends, equal parts male/female, and midway through the males all leaned in to each other and I believe someone said, “This is the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen.” Meanwhile, two of the females literally got up to wait in the lobby until GMC started because they “couldn’t take it anymore.”
Why did the ladies find it grueling? Imagine the impressive, every-other-line-is-comic-gold joke rate of a classic Simpsons episode. Now imagine that every single one of those jokes was a horrible pun, as if we all collected our dorky dads in a room and they toiled for months culling together their choicest groaners. I think this DVD should’ve come with an optional audio track including my sold-out theater’s reactions. It was a “groan track” as much as it was a laugh track. I learned that day that men love puns. I really don’t know why. But I think it gets worse as we get older too. The viewing experience was no doubt a terrifying window into the future for my female friends.
Well, I’m not ashamed to admit it. I will become a “dad.” There is an elegant mathematics involved in crafting a good groaner, and the Henson crew were truly masters. All the classic Muppet material was laced with them – like the Carol Kane “myth” running gag from The Muppet Movie. Why Henson decided to make Dog City – which started out simply as a use for the large quantity of dog puppets the Henson Studio had built up over the years – a relentless pun-explosion, I do not know. But I am so glad he did.
From the moment Rowlf the Dog (Henson) says, “Around here it’s dog eat dog; things can get pretty rough,” in the film’s opening monologue, we know we’re in for punishment. (boom!) The threadbare story here is of Ace (Kevin Clash showing off a very un-Elmo-like baritone), a new dog in town who wants to start a “quarter-way home for orphans.”
Bartender: You mean a half-way home?
Ace: One step at a time.
There are numerous “Who’s on first?” style bits revolving around Ace’s last name (Yu), and as if that wasn’t enough, in the overkill spirit of Dog City, the villain’s name is Bugsy Them (Henson again). Double the A&C routines! Henson is too dad joke sadistic to even leave it at that. After we first learn Bugsy Them’s name, Rowlf turns to the camera and says, “That’s right folks, yet another cheap joke name.” “That’s what we call chasing a shtick.” Man. What’s the emoticon for groaning?
Bugsy and Ace butt heads. There’s a dame. Tommy guns. Car chase. All the noir tropes and conventions. Puns aside, Henson and crew do a great job of inserting a lot of dog-centric jokes. When Ace and Bugsy first meet in a tense noir cliché barroom scene, they sniff at each other while sizing each other up and talking tough. Bugsy’s vanity is expressed in his desire to always have a perfectly groomed tail, fishing for compliments about how nice it looks from his goons. When Bugsy beats Ace down to teach him a lesson, he does so with a rolled up newspaper while screaming “bad dog!”
Dog City is not for everyone. Obviously if you don’t like puns and intentionally bad jokes, stay away for the love of god. Based on what I witnessed at the Henson retrospective, Dog City may even been too intense for many Henson fans (pussies). But I say give it a try. Guys, if you watch it with a ladyfriend, you might want to have some Advil on hand; she’ll likely have a headache from all the eye-rolling. She also may leave you.
Picture is very video-transfer looking and the special features are just old stills, which are nice but not really enough.
As much as I loved Dog City, this should have been part of a The Jim Henson Hour DVD set. At 40 minutes long, with no extra material, this DVD’s existence feels weirdly cash-grabbie. That said, this would be a gold purchase if found in a discounted bargain bin.
8 out of 10
4 out 10