Going to this particular kennel for the fifth time since 1959, Disney trots out another incarnation of "The Shaggy Dog," its ever-hairy tale of man co-mingling with beast to his betterment. The original starred Tommy Kirk and Fred MacMurray, was one of the studio's first live-action comedies, and made lots of money.
The most interesting (or peculiar) thing to be said of the furry franchise is that version three, a 1987 TV-movie called "The Return of the Shaggy Dog" and starring Gary Kroeger, is credited by Internet Movie Database as being co-written by "Crash's" Paul Haggis.
The new version mines the original as well as the 1976 Dean Jones vehicle, "The Shaggy D.A.," with producer-star Tim Allen playing Deputy Dist. Atty. Dave Douglas, who's prosecuting a local teacher for allegedly setting a fire at the lab of pharmaceuticals giant Grant & Strickland (which looks suspiciously like the Pacific Design Center). Dave's teenage daughter Carly (Zena Grey) happens to be a student of the teacher and partakes in a demonstration opposing her dad.
Grant & Strickland is, in fact, an evil entity run by Lance Strickland (Philip Baker Hall) and his greedy head scientist (Robert Downey Jr.). Although they've convinced everyone otherwise, the firm is conducting animal experiments trying to isolate the magic gene in a 300-year-old bearded collie procured from Tibet in a paramilitary operation that opens the movie. This search for the fountain of youth leaves in its wake a menagerie of mutated critters including a bulldog-bullfrog hybrid, a big snake with a furry tale and barking rodents and primates.
In his naivete, the ambitious Dave works increasingly hard while losing touch with wife Rebecca (Kristin Davis), daughter Carly and son Josh (Spencer Breslin), who struggles to hide his appetite for show tunes over football.
Meanwhile, Carly and her boyfriend (Shawn Pyfrom) break through the sieve-like security at Grant & Strickland and inadvertently liberate the ancient Tibetan canine.
The dog bites Dave, who then intermittently and inconveniently morphs into an equally shaggy dog, which leads to mistaken identity, butt-sniffing jokes and a threat to the Douglas family's happiness. Naturally, Dave rediscovers his humanity, becoming a better husband and father as a pooch than he ever was as a man.
The film's one lame attempt at relevance is the animal experimentation subplot, but rather than making anything resembling a point, the filmmakers simply use the created freaks of science as running sight gags. "The Shaggy Dog" is strictly for the very young who will find giggles in the anthropomorphic mash-ups and won't be too distracted by the predictably mawkish sitcom plot.
Director Brian Robbins and the producers somehow coaxed Downey, Hall, Davis, Danny Glover and Jane Curtin aboard this otherwise cable-ready venture. The screenplay -- which has "by committee" written all over it -- is, not surprisingly, credited to five writers. Devoid of cleverness or anything approaching reinvention, the film relies on special effects and its cast, human and animal, for its limited appeal. Hopefully, it will be limited enough to spare us "Son of the Shaggy Dog."
`The Shaggy Dog'
MPAA rating: PG for some mild rude humor
A Buena Vista Pictures release, presented by Walt Disney Pictures. Director Brian Robbins. Producers David Hoberman, Tim Allen. Screenplay by Cormac and Marianne Wibberley, Geoff Rodkey, Jack Amiel and Michael Begler. Director of photography Gabriel Beristain. Editor Ned Bastille. Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes.
In general release.