The Shaggy Dog (1959) poster

The Shaggy Dog (1959)


USA. 1959.


Director – Charles Barton, Screenplay – Lillie Hayward & Bill Walsh, Based on the Novel The Hound of Florence by Felix Salter, Photography – Edward Colman, Music – Paul Smith, Special Processes – Eustace Lycett, Art Direction – Carroll Clark. Production Company – Disney.


Tommy Kirk (Wilby Daniels), Fred MacMurray (Wilson Daniels), Roberta Shaw (Francesca Andressy), Kevin Corcoran (Moochie Daniels), Tim Considine (Buzz), Jean Hagen (Mrs Daniels), Cecil Kellaway (Professor Plumkett), Alexander Scoruby (Dr Mikhail Andressy) Annette Funicello (Alison)


Teenager Wilby Daniels is taken by his new next-door neighbour, French girl Francesca Andressy. At the museum, Wilby puts on a ring that once belonged to the Borgias, who had the power to shapchange, and is transformed into Francesca’s Shlavian Sheepdog Chiffon. He returns to normal but continues to change back into a dog at the most unexpected moments. The transformations result in chaos as he tries to ask Francesca and another girl out at the same time, while becoming caught up in the activities of a group of spies trying to steal plans for the underwater hydrogen missile.

The Shaggy Dog was the first of Disney’s live-action comedies, something that would kick into high gear following the success of The Absent-Minded Professor (1961) a couple of years later. The Shaggy Dog brought into alignment much of the team that would serve Disney throughout the coming decade – writer/producer Bill Walsh and stars Fred MacMurray, Tommy Kirk and Annette Funicello.

The Shaggy Dog is basically a comic spin on the werewolf story, a theme that had always played out in the horror genre up to this point. Much of the formula of the Disney comedy is still unhoned – there is a roughness to the film’s single gag that leaves it straining. Still there are amusing moments – the charmingly silly sequence with the were-dog changing into pyjamas, brushing its teeth and then getting into bed; of the young brother enthusiastically trying to put a collar on Tommy Kirk and play ball with him; and especially the image at the climax with the dog driving a hot rod (all Disney comedies seem to end in a bizarre chase of some sort). There is a cute gag during the introduction of Roberta Shaw where she takes the boys talking pidgin English to her for American Indians (although it is amusing to notice that her foreignness is immediately forgotten as soon as the gag is over).

Fred MacMurray with his son Wilby transformed into a dog in The Shaggy Dog (1959)
Fred MacMurray with his son Wilby transformed into a dog

Some of the performances are amateurish, particularly from Kevin Corcoran as the younger brother, and it is only a seasoned professional like Fred MacMurray who rises to the fore with his customary flair for dithering comedy. The film also contains one of the earliest examples of product placement with the younger brother sitting reading an Uncle Scrooge comic in one scene.

Disney made two sequels:– The Shaggy DA (1976), with Dean Jones as the adult Wilby, who is now a lawyer and keeps turning into a dog in court, and the tv movie The Return of the Shaggy Dog (1987) with Gary Kroeger as the title character, which essentially remade the original. The Shaggy Dog (1994) was a tv movie remake, starring Scott Weinger in the Tommy Kirk role and Ed Begley Jr as the father. The Shaggy Dog (2006) was a cinematic remake starring Tim Allen.

Trailer here

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