THE OBJECTIVE: Watch the 52 worst live action Disney movies, one every week, in 2015.
THE SHAGGY D.A. (1976)
The Shaggy D.A., the final film of prolific Disney director Robert Stevenson, is a late sequel to Disney’s ’50s hit The Shaggy Dog. Why it was deemed, 17 years after the fact, that the world needed a sequel to the movie about a magic ring that bestows dog-morphing powers, I’m not certain. But hey, this is classic Disney stuff, I’m sure the result will be at least mediocre.
Everyone’s favorite kid who awkwardly turns into a dog, Wilby Daniels, is all grown up. He’s so grown up, in fact, that he’s now played by Dean Jones, instead of Tommy Kirk. Anyhow, Medfield has been plagued by a string of terrible robberies, and Wilby, now a successful lawyer, wants to solve the problem by becoming the town’s next district attorney.
He’s got sound fiscal policy, and won’t be soft on the commies!
Unfortunately, the current D.A., John Slade (Keenan Wynn), is a corrupt asshole who has made deals with all the criminals, and he’s going to stop at nothing to stop Wilby from winning the election. Fortunately for Slade, Wilby is cursed, and turns into a dog whenever anyone reads the inscription on a magical Borgia ring.
Forget the political crap, this is what we paid to see!
Anyhow, since the bizarre rules that the first movie set up require that an actual dog be present for Wilby to transform, there is a bumbling, dog-owning, ice cream/pie truck driver (Tim Conway) hanging around for most of the film. Usually he’s chasing after his mutt, who is sometimes Wilby, and sometimes just a dog.
He’s mildly entertaining!
Everything quickly devolves into a mad scramble as Wilby, Slade, that ice cream guy, that ice cream guy’s kind-of-girlfriend (Jo Anne Worley), Wilby’s wife Betty (Suzanne Pleshette), Wilby’s son (Shane Sinutko), several criminals, and a bunch of other people run around trying to get control of the magic ring. Shenanigans ensue:
It’s actually a pretty decent time, so I won’t go into too much detail. Suffice it to say, life is hard when dumb criminals are trying to capture you/turn you into a dog.
When I watched The Shaggy Dog earlier this year, I posited that the film is actually a story about coming out to a deeply homophobic father. If so, The Shaggy D.A., is unquestionably about being outed and its effects on a person’s life and career. Wilby Daniels has a pretty good life, a loving wife, and a budding political career. But all of this is endangered by his terrible secret. It’s something about himself that he cannot change. He has been able to keep it under wraps since his teenage years, but he’s afraid that now that he’s running for office, it will be dragged into the light and ruin him. If you didn’t know this was a movie about a man who turns into a dog, this plot would be a whole lot darker.
Can he face who he sees in the mirror?
What happens when Wilby tells his wife about his occasional canine transformations? Well, after a brief moment of shock, she begins the process of staunchly repressing the whole affair. “Did you hear what I said?” Wilby asks. “Yes I did, and we’re just going to pretend that you never said it,” comes Betty’s cold reply. She’s not going to let Wilby’s personal truth spoil her marriage, or wreck her ambition to become the wife of a successful politician.
I’d make an “in the doghouse” joke, but this shit is dark.
“‘Local attorney promises to clean up city if elected,’ he might do well to start with himself,” Slade sneers. The corrupt D.A. is out to find dirt on Daniels. When he uncovers Wilby’s secret, he makes every effort to bring it to the public’s attention. But wait, there’s hidden hypocrisy here! At the end of the film, Slade ends up turning into a dog himself!
It’s always satisfying when the most vocal opponents of turning into a dog turn out to be dogs themselves.
Taken at face value, the whole film is ridiculous. What, after all, is so socially outrageous about turning into a dog? Everything makes a bit more sense if the film is really talking about homosexuality, not lycanthropy. After all, in the ’60s and ’70s, being gay could be a death sentence for a career. I mean, shit, Dean Jones probably wouldn’t even be in this movie if Disney hadn’t fired Tommy Kirk for being gay. At its core, The Shaggy D.A. is a deep examination of a man’s fear of being discovered for who he really is in a society that is unwilling to accept him. Either that, or it’s just a dumb movie about a guy who turns into a dog. One of those two.
Hard to say.
WHY DON’T PEOPLE LIKE IT?:
As fun as it is, The Shaggy D.A. is not without its problems. For one thing, it gets off to a very slow start. The first dog transformation doesn’t take place till 23 minutes in. There are also a number of bizarre logistical issues. For instance, when he’s a dog, Wilby can still talk and walk like a human. Okay, sure. But he can also talk to other non-magical dogs. So, can we then assume that the other dogs could talk to humans too, just like Wilby does? The special effects for their talking look the same, so maybe?
The uprising begins now!
I suppose that another point against this film would be how late of a sequel it is. Did the world really need a follow up to 1959’s The Shaggy Dog in 1976? Not really. Eh.
Finally, I would be remiss if I did not mention that it is implied that a poodle would like to fuck Wilby, which is just plain off-putting.
- The film’s theme song is a kind of catchy, pattering tune that seems to have been slightly influenced by The Music Man.
- Director Robert Stevenson must really have a thing for people who pretend they’re at sea when they’re not, ’cause both The Shaggy D.A. and Mary Poppins feature next door neighbors who act like jackass admirals for no damn reason. This one is played by John Myhers.
Take off your dumb hat, you’re not on a boat.
MOST REGRETTABLE MOMENT:
At one point, Wilby is trapped in the dog pound and one of his fellow inmates sings “Swing Low Sweet Chariot.”
It’s a black lab. GET IT.
Oh, and when he finally breaks all the dogs out, Wilby calls the black lab “brother.” Lovely.
It may get off to a slow start, but once it gets rolling, The Shaggy D.A. is actually a pretty fun time. Dean Jones is his normal fun self. Tim Conway is fairly entertaining. And whoever they paid to run around the set in a dog suit is a damn good time. To be honest, I enjoyed this slightly more than the original. If you’re looking for zany madcap chase scenes featuring a bunch of dogs, this is probably the movie to pick. (Why you’d be looking for that specifically, I don’t know. To each their own.)
Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo (1977)