Originality is overrated. A remake is not necessarily a bad thing. A few movie fans put it on par with kiddy porn or pushing old people down the stairs. They say it “ruins” the original. Unless the new director actually shot his movie using the same film as the original, I’m not sure that’s true. In fact, a remake is sometimes actually pretty good. Some, like The Magnificent Seven, The Thing, or The Man Who Knew Too Much, can be classics. Others, like Freaky Friday a few years back, aren’t exactly high art, but are funny and entertaining. Then I see junk like Disney’s 2006 remake of The Shaggy Dog and I think maybe the critics of remakes have a point.
The Shaggy Dog takes its name from a 1959 Disney live-action flick starring Fred McMurray and Tommy Kirk as a teenage boy finds a magic ring which turns him into a dog. In the 1976 sequel, The Shaggy D.A., the boy grows up to be Dean Jones and runs for District Attorney, but the ring comes back to wreak havoc and comic hilarity ensues (in theory.) Other than the key element of a man turning into a dog and the D.A. angle, the 2006 remake takes the plot in an entirely new direction.
Tim Allen stars as Dave Douglas, a prosecutor with an eye on job of District Attorney once his boss, Ken Hollister (Danny Glover), retires. In order to lock down support for the job, Dave must convict an animal rights protestor accused of setting fire to a lab run by the sleazy Dr. Kozak (Robert Downey, Jr.) and the aging Lance Strickland (Phillip Baker Hall.) Dave isn’t aware that Kozak and Strickland have kidnapped a seemingly never aging bearded collie from Tibet in order to develop a serum to stop the aging process. I know, you’re probably thinking the same thing I did when I read that sentence…..did anyone at Disney actually think this was going to be funny?
The dog ends up at Dave’s house courtesy of his teenage daughter (Zena Grey.) For reasons that aren’t made entirely clear, the dog bites Dave causing one of those “only in the movie” transformations where Dave becomes a bearded collie until some unspecific time at night when he turns human again. Of course, even before he changes into a dog Dave begins to exhibit dog-like behaviors. This allows Tim Allen to chew the scenery (literally) as he sticks his face in his cereal bow, licks his wife’s (Kristin Davis) face goodbye, and lifts his leg while at the urinal. It’s the type of thing that makes younger elementary school kids howl with delight and everyone else, including you probably, groan and look at their watch.
Because this is a modern day Disney movie and you can’t just have fun, Dave starts the movie as a workaholic who misses school meetings, cancels trips, and generally ignores the family in order to further his career. Of course, when he turns into a dog and hears his family talk about him when he isn’t around, he leans the key lesson in any movie of this type….WHAT’S REALLY IMPORTANT. Being with your family, your wife, good friends, that’s what is really important. Not the distasteful money and position, blech. Almost from the get go you can picture an ending where Dave learns an important lesson about family and you wouldn’t be too far off.
This movie suffers from the same affliction as The Benchwarmers, it’s a comedy that just isn’t funny. Allen is mildly amusing as a man with dog-like traits but not enough to keep the whole movie going. When he becomes the sheep dog and his voice over accompanies the dog running around, it’s just terrible. Not funny, not interesting, not anything. The supporting cast sports some bigger names who are given almost nothing to do. Downey has some funny lines and seems to be the only one who realizes he is in a stupid comedy, delivering each line with a “can you believe the shit that is happening” attitude and smirk. Davis, as Allen’s wife, is nice to look at but doesn’t say or do anything remotely funny. Why not cast a true comic? Jane Curtain plays a judge who admonishes Allen for growling in court but she plays it pretty straight so why put her in the role? You keep waiting for her to do something funny but she never does. It seems the idea was that the audience would be laughing so hard at Allen catching a stick in his mouth that everyone and everything else was just a prop.
As is usual with movies like this, a grab bag of writers were involved. Not only are there five credited writers but according to the commentary there was uncredited script “polishing” going on by everyone and their brother. It’s amazing that all of these professional writers couldn’t come up with anything more hilarious than “Tim Allen holds document in his teeth and growls while approaching witness, witness pulls document from Allen’s teeth, tearing it slightly.” Does that make you laugh? Trust me, it doesn’t work much better on screen.
In the end, The Shaggy Dog isn’t much more than Tim Allen acting like a dog for some laughs. If the idea of him running on all fours chasing a cat or shaking his body to dry off after a shower makes you laugh, then this is the movie for you. Otherwise, it’s a trite obvious plot, wasted actors in nothing roles, and humor that never really rises above an eight year olds level. This isn’t a family movie, it’s a children’s movie and not a very good one at that.
I was pretty down on this movie so I’d like to start out the disc portion of the review by saying something positive. The single disc release contains both a wide (2.40 to 1 aspect ratio) and full (1.33 to 1 aspect ratio) screen version of the movie. I know a lot of people wish that full screen would go straight to hell and stay there, but if it is going to exist, I’d much rather have both versions on one disc rather than forcing families to choose which version to get. This way, if someone in the family wants the full screen, they have it. The movie does have a nice crisp look in either version. Beware that the DVD will default to the full screen version, so make sure you track back to the menu and choose the widescreen version specifically.
The disc itself has a decent selection of bonus features. A commentary track by director Brian Robbins and producer David Hoberman is available (although only on the widescreen version.) The track is somewhat informative and they make an effort to give some good background on making the movie and what they were trying to accomplish but the true entertainment value is in hearing two guys talking about a movie that they don’t seem to realize is unfunny and boring. That makes sense, obviously; I don’t expect them to bash the movie, but it’s a little funny to listen to what they are saying about Tim Allen’s performance or the script when your own eyes are telling you this movie just isn’t very good. My favorite comments were when Robbins states that many of his friends thought an early scene where the sheep dog is in Tibet and appears to have his paws together meditating was done by the dog. They asked him how he got the dog to put his paws together. Robbins says that the paws are CG, as though it’s revealing inside information. However, any idiot can tell the shot has CG elements. It’s one of several examples where Robbins doesn’t seem to have a realistic view of his movie and how anyone over eight would view it. Later he tells us that a snake in the laboratory scene is actually CG. As we used to say when I was a kid: no shit, Sherlock.
The one interesting missing extra is any sort of featurette about the dogs used in the movie. While there is a good amount of CG used, an actual dog does most of the work and it seems that a lot of kids would be interested in learning more about the dogs used. But there is no standard making-of featurette where that might be discussed or even a specific section about the dogs, their training, etc. that you usually see with animal related DVDs. Instead Disney figured that people would be satisfied with something called “Bark-Along Bone-us Feature For Your Dog To Enjoy. Other than a brief chuckle as you do a Beavis and Butthead imitation while saying “he he, they said BONE-US” this is a really head scratching extra. It’s basically a video of clips from the movie and behind the scenes presented to the overused tune “Woof (Whoop), There It Is” You can play it with the song or, and I’m not making this up, with dogs barking in lieu of music as the subtitles show each woof and yip. It’s terrible either way.
There is a brief blooper reel, lasting about two minutes. It’s probably the funniest thing on the DVD, although it’s so short it doesn’t make up for the rest of the garbage. There are also four deleted scenes. Most are pretty short and none are particularly funny or interesting. One shows an alternate ending that is the same as the actual ending but with one character changed into an animal. There is no commentary or introduction to the scenes so you don’t know where they were supposed to go or why they were cut out. There are also a few previews for other Disney movies.
The disc is about on par with the movie itself, simply product to feed the Disney money machine. Certainly if the idea of a human turning into a dog is something you or the kids are interested in, start with the 1959 movie also available on DVD. Hopefully Disney will keep its current release schedule operating in this franchise. One movie every 15-20 years sounds about right. In 2026 get ready for The Shaggy Dog Goes to Pluto!.