You may think it's unnecessary, even unkind, to be too critical of a fairly harmless 2006 Disney remake of a fairly corny 1959 Disney family comedy; but I have to wonder why Disney isn't doing anything more original lately. They appear either to be making real-life dramas or remaking their older films. In either case, the subject matter is hardly innovative. Oh, well, it's "The Shaggy Dog" that is the subject at hand, and it's a picture that would never think of biting the hand that feeds it. It's just too sweet for that.
Poor Tim Allen, though; his movies run hot and cold. Sometimes they're a delight, like "The Santa Clause" and "Galaxy Quest"; other times they're a drag, like "Jungle 2 Jungle" and "Joe Somebody." In "The Shaggy Dog" he literally turns into a canine. At least Fred MacMurray had the good sense to let the co-star playing his son turn into a dog. But this is a Tim Allen picture, so he does the honors himself. The result is something like Allen turning into the jolly old fat man, but without the charm. I understand the Disney studio so likes the idea of Allen as Santa, they're doing a "Santa Clause 3." Maybe someday for a change Allen will get to play a normal human being in a film.
In the original movie, a magical ring turned a teenage boy into a sheepdog. In this one, the bite of a magical Tibetan sheepdog turns Dave Douglas (Allen) into a sheepdog. That's about the extent of the movie's ingenuity. How does the transformation happen? Why does it happen? Does it matter? Well, if you insist. A pharmaceutical company captures the Tibetan dog because it's supposed to possess the secret of immortality. The company, Grant and Stickland, want to extract an anti-aging serum from the animal that will make them a gazillion dollars. The evil perpetrator of this plot is the unscrupulous Dr. Kozak (Robert Downey Jr.). But Douglas's animal-activist teenage daughter, Carly (Zena Grey), and her boyfriend kidnap the Tibetan mutt before Kozak can finish his experiments, and then the dog bites the father and turns him into dog. OK, I admit that whole last business lost me. I mean, a dog that lives forever I can understand. I've met some dogs that have been around forever. But the bite of an immortal canine turns a human into a dog? I dunno.
Anyway, Douglas keeps turning from man to dog when he runs too fast and back into a man when he goes to sleep. His problem is that nobody will believe him when he tries to explain his predicament, and for most of the movie he has trouble communicating with people, either as a human or as a dog. These misunderstandings are common in typically dumb comedies, where any reasonably intelligent person could solve the problem in two minutes but it takes the comedic lead the length of movie to figure it out.
Because this is a Disney family picture (which translated means a "kids' picture"), a silly plot isn't enough--it has to have a moral, too. Fair enough. So in the beginning of the movie we see that Douglas hates animals and is a workaholic lawyer who is neglecting his family. After experiencing life as an animal, he discovers a new respect for them, and, of course, he eventually learns to love his family. But you saw that coming.
The two best things about the film are Allen, who is always good playing the frustrated Everyman, and Robert Downey Jr., who is wonderfully, comically slimy. It's also good to see Downey getting his career back in order; he's fine, versatile actor. Kristin Davis as the wife, Zena Grey as the daughter, and Spencer Breslin as the young son are competent but relatively colorless. Danny Glover as the city district attorney and Jane Curtin as a superior court judge are almost completely wasted in their roles. Apart from our being able to say, "Hey, there's Danny Glover, and isn't that Jane Curtin," there is nothing for us to admire about their performances because they have virtually nothing to do.
The whole movie is merely a variation of "The Santa Clause" theme, with most of the benefit coming from our watching Allen as a human behaving like a dog. In fact, Allen is more amusing acting like a dog--growling at people, chasing cats, and just running around--than he is when he's turned into a dog, but even that gimmick tires quickly. And if the filmmakers wanted a better slant on things, they might have had Allen turning into a shaggy Santa. Director Brian Robinson ("Varsity Blues," "Birds of Prey," "The Perfect Score"), however, seems more interested in pleasing the fancies of ten-year-old boys (lots of peeing and butt-sniffing scenes) than in developing anything new for older audiences.
This new "Shaggy Dog" is not particularly funny, not very creative, and not even very entertaining. I was amused once, watching a group of animals meditating in Kozak's laboratory; and I was touched once, watching Allen-as-dog show up at a restaurant carrying flowers for his wife. Otherwise, the film is mostly empty foolishness, accompanied by a drippy, syrupy musical score that underlines every sentimental moment.
Let me start with the oddities. The picture is presented in two screen formats, widescreen and "full screen." Sorta. When you go to select one of the two formats, you find two screen icons pictured; clearly one is 2:40:1 and the other is 1.78:1. Clicking on the 1.78:1 screen icon brings up a standard 1.33:1 ratio picture to watch. Then, when you compare the two screen ratios, you find that the genuine widescreen measures about 2.18:1, which is normal, given some degree of overscanning and conversion loss. Then you notice that the standard-screen ratio shows a good deal more top and bottom information than the widescreen does, while it loses at least a third of the screen image left and right. In other words, it appears that the video engineers matted both the widescreen and standard-screen ratios differently from a larger original camera negative that we never see. I watched in widescreen, because I'm guessing that comes closest to what filmgoers might have seen in a theater.
The picture quality, in any case, is rather ordinary, apparently the result of Disney's squeezing both screen formats onto one side of the disc at a relatively high compression rate. Colors are bright enough, but facial tones are often dark, definition is only average, and grain and transfer noise are sometimes more than evident.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio fares better than the video. It conveys a realistic sense of presence when needed in rain, thunder, cars, animals, and crowds. The bass is deep, the dynamics are strong, and the surround channels do their appropriate thing with multidirectional efficiency at the appropriate times.
For those interested, there is an audio commentary with director Brian Robbins and producer David Hoberman (in the widescreen version only), but I'm afraid even the director and the producer have a hard time coming up with anything interesting to say about this film. Then, there are four deleted scenes totalling about four minutes; a two-minute bloopers reel; and two "Bark Along" segments, one for dogs and one for humans, which include dog barks and their translations. The latter segments are pretty much as bad as they sound.
Things conclude with twenty scene selections and a chapter insert; Sneak Peeks at other Disney titles at start-up or during the "Fast Play" feature; English, French, and Spanish spoken languages; French and Spanish subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired.
You notice I went this whole review without once stooping so low as to call the movie a dog. It isn't. It's a shaggy dog. Meaning it's too cute and cuddly to be entirely bad. It just doesn't do anything out of the ordinary. Meaning it is totally a Disney family film from the first minute to the last, with virtually no spark of ingenuity or invention in sight. I swear one of the apes in the film could have written the screenplay, and if it weren't for the performances of Allen and Downey, who are real troupers, there wouldn't even be a movie to talk about.