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The Shaggy Dog   D

Walt Disney Pictures

Year Released: 2006
MPAA Rating: PG
Director: Brian Robbins
Writers: The Wibberleys, Geoff Rodkey, Jack Amiel, Michael Begler
Cast: Tim Allen, Kristin Davis, Zena Grey, Spencer Breslin, Danny Glover, Robert Downey Jr., Shawn Pyfrom, Philip Baker Hall.

Review by Rob Vaux

Where is it written that family entertainment has to be hackneyed and imbecilic? Where is it decreed that wholesome messages can't be accompanied by the slightest hint of imagination? The desire for "safe" movies to which parents can comfortably take their children often leads to the reckless abandonment of every other creative consideration. It doesn't matter if a film is poorly conceived, moronic, or full of characters more two-dimensional than a packing box. As long as it promotes "family values," we're happy to expose the wee ones to every stunted, cliché-ridden, brain-deadening moment of it.

No one exemplifies this tendency more than Tim Allen, who long ago surrendered whatever charms he may have held to become Disney's anointed dispenser of milquetoast crap. His latest project, an exhumed remake of The Shaggy Dog, is further evidence that he has nothing of consequence left to offer. Its overwrought plot bends over backwards to facilitate the central "dad turns into a dog" conceit, involving a 300-year-old bearded collie kidnapped by an unscrupulous drug company as part of a preposterous scheme to reverse the aging process. Allen plays an assistant district attorney prosecuting an activist opposed to the company's experimentation on animals -- much to the consternation of his socially conscious teenage daughter (Zena Grey), ignored wife (Kristen Davis), and closet-thespian son (Spencer Breslin). Then through an unduly complicated series of contrivances, the dog bites him and before you know it, he's scratching behind his ears, barking at recalcitrant witnesses, and treeing every cat that gets within 50 yards of him.

Allen mugs his way through the setup with reckless abandon, glossing over his character's one-note personality with an exhausted array of overbearing mannerisms. Director Brian Robbins compounds his folly by delivering a faux suburban environment that bears no resemblance to any reality beyond the back lot. Calcified notions from Disney's live-action past abound, from the dad who needs to pay more attention to his kids to overly cute animals trying to win us over with county-fair antics. Everything runs on autopilot, and with the exception of Robert Downey Jr. (playing a manic mad scientist villain), no one in the cast can rise above somnambulistic zombie mode.

The slapstick, too, falls depressingly short of the mark, hampered by witless material and subpar computer effects. Allen's unfunny doglike behavior is augmented by his periodic morphs into an actual pooch, along with a gaggle of failed lab experiments (including a snake with a furry tail and a toad with a happy pug face) that feel more creepy than humorous. Robbins aims squarely for the cheap laughs, revolving around painfully obvious sight gags and quizzical responses to the bizarre behavior of his lead. When comic timing and competent storytelling fail, the director turns to an oppressively peppy tone to carry the film along -- topped by the inevitable sequence where Allen rampages through the neighborhood on all fours to the dulcet strains of "Who Let the Dogs Out." (No, they don't limit it to the commercials. Yes, I'm appalled/horrified/filled with bloodcurdling rage, too.)

The film's shortcomings are all the more grating because the people involved clearly don't care what they're doing. No one here has anything in mind but a paycheck... and yet the Disney promotional machine will ensure a heavy turnout of uncritical patrons ready to slop up their efforts. To any parents reading this, I ask you: Why is showing your kids such uninspired junk any worse than showing them images of sex or violence? How is it any less damaging to their growth and development? Children should see films that fire their imagination, that expose them to the wonders of the world, that fill them with joy and beauty and a sense of their own precious potential. Believe it or not, one can marry such notions to family-friendly content; Disney has certainly produced its share, to say nothing of smaller efforts like Carroll Ballard's Fly Away Home or Dave McKean's MirrorMask (two films whose total grosses amount to less than the catering budget for this turd). Do yourself and your family a favor; don't expose them to mind-numbing garbage just because it's wrapped in the facade of a wholesome message. The Shaggy Dog is wholesome, yes. And safe. And homogenized and soulless and utterly devoid of anything worthwhile. "Family entertainment" deserves a lot better.

Review published 03.11.2006.

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