The Shaggy Dog Reviews
The script is funny enough, if a little bland, but the energy from the cast makes up for it. It's a pure comfort film with setups and payoffs that are a tad smarter than other kids' films of that era. In fact Buzz and Wilby's attempts to date both Roberta Shore and Annette are quite clever, with a great payoff.
And then there's MacMurray. His part isn't big, and I wish they found a way to include him more in the climax, but he's great in the scenes he's in.
So I was looking up information about various of the performers in this movie--foot soldiers in the Disney live-action revolution--and discovered an interesting fact. Annette Funicello had actually suggested to Walt that her name was too ethnic, and she might want to change it for TV. And Walt responded quite seriously that it would be a mistake. No one would ever forget that name. It would make her distinctive, and Gods alone know what ridiculous choice they would have made. It is true that there are people in the entertainment industry who made excellent choices when they decided not to go with their original name. I mean, I could list, and a brief look at the stars of the Golden Age of Hollywood will provide us examples. However, Funicello isn't a bad name, and Walt's right. You never have to look her up to remember who she is.
Wilby Daniels (Tommy Kirk) is a typical American teenager. Suburban house. Stern but distracted father Wilson (Fred MacMurray). Cipher housewife mother Freeda (Jean Hagen). Kooky younger brother with a charming nickname Moochie (Kevin Corcoran). Or possibly charming younger brother with a kooky nickname. There's Alison (Funicello) down the street and Wilby's friendly rival Buzz Miller (Tim Considine). And then one day, misspelled Franceska Andrassy (Roberta Shore) comes to town. (Real name Roberta Jymme Schourop. So yeah.) She's beautiful and sophisticated. Speaks seven languages. And while Wilby is pouring out his soul to Professor Plumcutt (Cecil Kellaway) and helping move things around in the museum, a ring falls into the cuff of his jeans. When he finds it, he reads the inscription--"[i]In Canis Corpore Transmuto[/i]." Students of Latin will know that this is not going to end well for Wilby, and indeed yes. He starts transforming into Franceska's dog, Chiffon.
What has always kind of bothered me about this movie is Moochie's attitude toward the whole thing. In 1959, Kevin Corcoran was ten, and you figure Moochie's about that himself. This is, I think, old enough to realize that a dog with the mind of your brother is not exactly going to require the techniques learned in a book on teaching your dog tricks. Clearly, it exasperates Wilby to realize this. The time Moochie is wandering around the yard whistling for his brother is intended to be silly, but you kind of have to wonder what's going through Moochie's head. Yes, he wants a dog and always has. Having a father's allergies standing between you and your fondest dreams has got to suck. On the other hand, there would be a distinct advantage to a talking dog, though I don't think Moochie would get that advantage. After all, being a dog does not change Wilby's personality. He's not so much a fan of doing what his younger brother wants him to do. Because he's seventeen. (He turned eighteen at the end of the year, so yeah.) Moochie does not seem to care.
I am continually fascinated by Fred MacMurray's career arc. With those Disney child stars, Gods love 'em, their career arc was kind of down. Though Kevin Corcoran was able to make a career behind the camera, so well done him, and a few later stars did pretty well for themselves. Ask Jodie Foster. Who, it should be noted, has two more Oscars than Fred MacMurray won. He was never even nominated. It's not quite as though he went from the serious noir antihero of [i]Double Indemnity[/i] to [i]My Three Sons[/i]; he did a lot of lighter stuff before this. And the next year, he did [i]The Apartment[/i], which is lighter but still intended to be more for adults. However, it is safe to say that 1959 really did mark the beginning of the avuncular stage in his career. As it happens, I really think [i]My Three Sons[/i] is terrible, but that's not why I half-lament the Disney introduction this marks for him. He was awfully good in [i]The Caine Mutiny[/i].
But I mean, yeah. Your standard Disney fare. Not, despite what they may tell you, the first ever live action Disney movie. Indeed, Tommy Kirk and Kevin Corcoran had starred together in another Disney dog movie two years earlier, and that was in colour. But I think this is the start of something nonetheless. Alas, what it may well be the start of is Disney quickie films, the ones basically intended to just make a buck and not leave an impact. I mean, it was in beautiful B&W, even though, again, you kind of had to have colour if the title of your movie is [i]Old Yeller[/i]. Unless, I suppose, it's about a crotchety guy who shouts a lot. Annette was big, and so Annette is in the movie. The romantic rival, the B-level bad guy, was Spin, apparently, on [i]Spin and Marty[/i], and that was doing well, so let's throw him in. It was low budget, too--and they say it managed to out-gross [i]Ben-Hur[/i], though no one seems willing to show me a cite on that.