STUDIO: Disney
MSRP: $29.99
RUNNING TIME: 99 Minutes

• Commentary by director Brian Robbins and producer David Hoberman
• Bloopers
• Deleted Scenes
• Bark-Along Bone-us Feature

The Pitch

“Lawyer revealed to be dog, millions unsurprised”

The Humans

Tim Allen (Zoom), Robert Downey Jr. (Johnny Be Good), Zena Grey (Max Keeble’s Big Move), Spencer Breslin (The Cat in the Hat), Kristin Davis (Sex and the City), Danny Glover (Gone Fishin’)

"No, I wouldn’t say ‘lethal’…"

The Nutshell

Dave Douglas (Allen) is a successful deputy district attorney who, like most ambitious Hollywood parents, has fallen out of touch with his family. In particular teenage daughter Carly (Grey) resents him for prosecuting an animal rights proponent for allegedly setting fire to a pharmaceutical giant’s laboratory. Their top scientist Dr. Kozak (Downey Jr.) is in fact busy conducting less than kosher experiments on animals, namely a highly photogenic sheepdog he believes holds the genetic secret to prolonging human life by centuries. However, the cagey dog escapes and is brought home by a concerned Carly. Christened “Shaggy,” it shortly bites the “ironically” dog-hating Dave. Soon the latter finds himself alarmingly developing canine characteristics, such as the desire to lap his cereal and stick his nose places polite society might not ordinarily consider proper. He begins to involuntarily transform into Shaggy’s spitting image for brief periods, while elsewhere his namesake is recaptured by Kozak. Dave sets out to save Shaggy’s skin and recover his own before his family goes completely to the dogs.

Doggy Pryde was always one of Xavier’s slower students.

The Lowdown

The title suggests a remake of the classic Disney film with Fred MacMurray, who always reminded me a bit of Ronald Reagan. They both worked with animals in the 50s, a classic Hollywood mistake that Reagan would go on to repeat in the 80s. Would we have had a kinder, gentler nation with the father of My Three Sons? Would we have won the cold war? Would Bonzo have moved permanently into Betty Ford?

In any event this film is actually based more on the 70s Dean Jones sequel The Shaggy D.A. Last year Disney soiled Jones’ legacy with a sappy, lifeless remake of The Love Bug, replacing him with a star who played second fiddle to her impressively tight t-shirt. Perhaps feeling guilty, this time they shelled out for accomplished funnyman Allen, who narrowly saves the film from the rubbish heap with an enjoyably hammy assist from Downey Jr., still in fine Kiss Kiss Bang Bang form. However, despite lots of heroic mugging there’s only so much they can do with the tepid material that generally settles for “silly” instead of pushing for “funny.”

"Now, usually the pogo stick isn’t even greased…"

On the plus side the film possesses a modicum of intelligence and a minimum of sentimentality, putting it a cut above brain-dead tripe like Garfield and Yours, Mine and Ours. The dialogue and gags rarely slip to kindergarten level, and as corny as The Shaggy Dog’s plot is at least it has some social relevance. There’s even a mildly disturbing scene in which a helpless senior citizen is murdered, although dialogue tries to reassure the tykes that he’s just taking a long nap.

Perhaps there’s a bit too much plot for this simple premise though, especially an elaborate opening sequence that strays into James Bond territory. I could have done without the increasingly tired teenage activist cliché, and the inevitable appearance of the Baha Men’s odious “Who Let the Dogs Out” was even less welcome. Plus Craig Kilborn pops up in yet another stunningly dull cameo. The guy must be married to a casting director.

Grandma Wilkins gets stuffed at the goal line in what would prove her final Senior Bowl.

For a few brief moments the humor works, or comes close enough. Allen is especially on his game during the court appearance in which his doggie impulses manifest themselves all too visibly. Even though it’s hard not to be reminded of a very similar scene in Jim Carrey’s infinitely funnier Liar Liar, it’s still amusing to watch Allen impulsively growl at an uncooperative witness. The film’s single big laugh comes when Allen and his wife Davis are discussing their son’s failing grades with his teacher. Immediately after boldly proclaiming that nothing is more important than his family, Allen unceremoniously dashes out to chase a cat.

Dave awoke with a nagging crick in the neck and the strange urge to get medieval.

The film drags terribly anytime Allen is off camera, and the filmmakers would have done better to focus more on him acting like a dog than becoming one. However there is one scene where he is handily upstaged by animal costars. I recall Gore Verbinski talking about what a nightmare it was to shoot the skittish spider monkey in Pirates of the Caribbean. He can thank his lucky stars he didn’t have to direct The Shaggy Dog’s climax, which finds Allen in the front seat of a car with a spider monkey plus a chimpanzee, rabbit, and rats. I kept waiting for the monkeys to start a fistfight or chuck a rat out the window. To the audience’s great relief the chimp does toss out a Norah Jones CD, and the rabbit turns in a inspired adlib by surreptitiously nibbling on the map the chimp is “reading.”

There’s no particular reason for adults to watch The Shaggy Dog on their own, but it goes down smoother than the average family entertainment pill.

Sure it was emasculating, but he had to know if the part about the "smile ten miles wide" was mere hyperbole.

The Package

The minimalist cover art falls a bit flat, and could easily be mistaken for a TV movie. I suppose it explains the premise clearly enough, although the painful tagline suggests a much stupider film possibly starring Rob Schneider.

I always wonder whom the studios intend to target with family DVD extras. They are usually too bland to interest adults, and yet what kid is going to sit through a feature length commentary? Both parties are likely to be bored with The Shaggy Dog’s offerings. The deleted scenes and “bloopers” unfortunately add nothing of value. A strategically placed scratch should exempt you from having to endure the Bark-Along Bone-us Feature, which offers the enticing choice of assailing Fido with 3 minutes of nonstop barking or singing along with the instant pop classic “Woof! There it is.” I suppose some research went into this, but do dogs really watch TV, and if so are they still upset that Rin Tin Tin never enjoyed the fame of that prima donna Lassie?

Ebert never felt more alive than during his notorious drive-by reviews.

Finally, assuming anyone cares, there’s an informative albeit dry commentary from director Brian Robbins (Varsity Blues) and producer David Hoberman (The Negotiator) which reveals that Judd Apatow (The 40 Year Old Virgin) helped polish the script to no avail and the biggest directorial challenge was getting Allen to go au naturel. Luckily Robbins proved only mildly successful on that front.

5.5 out of 10