1959’s The Shaggy Dog is all of the campy wholesome vintage Disney goodness I got into this for. What is Wilby Daniels, a Leave It To Beaver-esque teen to do when an ancient curse morphs him back and forth from teen to shaggy dog at will? How is he supposed to get the girl, catch the French spies next door, or evade his dad- the mailman who hates dogs!? Meant to be a two part television series and turned into a full length film, it is Disney’s highest grossing film from the 1950’s.
I’m placing this film at number two on my Very Unofficial Live-Action Ranking…and it was a hard call! I soaked up every gooey, nostalgic moment in this film, and between this film and 20,000 Leagues, I think I would replay this film first! But when it comes down to it I don’t think it compares in quality to 20,000, so it couldn’t usurp the top position.
When a movie is over twenty years old, you give it a certain leniency that doesn’t come with a modern film. You’re less critical of things like special effects, a cheesy joke, melodrama, even plot holes than you would be if you were watching a new release in theaters. It’s a grace that comes with vintage territory and it awards the viewer with a heck of a lot more pleasure.
If you don’t know what I mean, watch The Shaggy Dog. Intentionally shot in black and white due to a low budget and low-tech special effects that couldn’t be masked had the film been in color– you will be applauding every silly moment right along with me. Those scenes where Wilby transforms into the dog are just too fun. That wiry glued-on fur framing his face coupled with the fact that NOBODY AROUND HIM NOTICES!? I love it. Then the scenes where Wilby, as the (just less than believable) dog drives in a high speed chase, baffling the goofy local police, catching the spies and saving the pointy-torpedo-breasted neighbor girl? So good! I’m even willing to accept the fact that at the end, while everything seems to be tied up with a bow, we are given no real resolution to Wilby’s species-switching fate. Does he just keep turning into a dog forever? Does he find a way to break the curse? Did the viewers in 1959 just roll with not knowing? You know what? It’s okay. I’m fine with not knowing. That’s the very essence of that vintage forgiveness I’m talking about.
This movie was cute retro fun and it’s streaming in all its canine glory on Disney+.