Movie Review: The Shaggy D.A.

The Shaggy D.A.

DVD Cover Copyright Disney

A sequel to The Shaggy Dog (1959), The Shaggy D.A. was theatrically released on December 17, 1976. The live action comedy is ninety-one minutes in length.

Plot Summary

In the suburban town of Medfield, a string of burglaries has the citizenry on edge. Much to the populace’s chagrin, the local District Attorney, “Honest” John Slade (Keenan Wynn), is seemingly derelict in his duties, easily apprehending criminals but just as quickly setting them free with no punishment. The only solution to the problem is for Slade to be ousted in the upcoming election, and, after his house is robbed twice on the same day, local lawyer Wilby Daniels (Dean Jones) throws his hat in the ring. Daniels’s campaign is managed by his wife, Betty (Suzanne Pleshette); his son, Brian (Shane Sinutko); and his neighbor Admiral Brenner (John Myhers).

Daniels’s solid credentials notwithstanding, his prospects of defeating Slade and his cronies are slim, and these odds grow even smaller when the Borgia Ring, the same ring that facilitated Daniels’s transformation into a dog in The Shaggy Dog, is stolen from the local art museum and the ring’s infamous inscription “In canis corpore transmuto” (“Into a dog’s body I change”) is repeatedly read aloud. With each reading, Daniels morphs into the body of Elwood, the shaggy canine of Tim (Tim Conway), the eccentric local ice cream man.

Dogs may be man’s best friend, but Daniels’s best chance to win the election is to remain human. Will he find a way to prevail?

Plot Development

The Shaggy D.A.’s plot starts interestingly enough with the seeds being sown for a contentious political race, but the story gradually slumbers. The closing scenes are largely action sequences with only loose connections to the overall plot.

Deja Vu

No member of the cast from The Shaggy Dog returns in The Shaggy D.A.. Two human characters from the original film resurface in the sequel. In addition to Wilby Daniels (played by Tommy Kirk in The Shaggy Dog), museum curator Professor Plumcutt (played by Cecil Kellaway in The Shaggy Dog) is directly referenced by his successor, Professor Whatley (Hans Conried), in discussing the legends of the Borgia Ring.

Self-Destruction

Announcing his resignation from the presidency in 1974, Richard Nixon said, “Always remember others may hate you but those who hate you don’t win unless you hate them. And then you destroy yourself.” Slade learns this lesson the hard way in The Shaggy D.A.. His incessant repeating of “In canis corpore transmuto” to destroy Daniels’s career may instead have a boomerang effect.

Music

A fun and extremely catchy number, “The Shaggy D.A.,” plays over the opening credits. The song, sung by Dean Jones with a chorus, is essentially a whimsical campaign pledge to eliminate Slade’s corruption. “The Shaggy D.A.” is far superior to its counterpart, “The Shaggy Dog,” from The Shaggy Dog.

Humor

The Shaggy D.A. is uproarious at points.

Admiral Brenner tries to jumpstart Daniels’s campaign by offering to donate a quarter.

If Daniels wants to “clean up” Medfield, he should probably avoid appearing in print with his face smothered in barbecue sauce.

After forcing Tim to recite all forty-four flavors sold by his ice cream truck, Brian Daniels passes over complex concoctions like gingerbread rocky road slush and avocado surprise in favor of a simpler flavor: vanilla.

Daniels, after shapeshifting into Elwood while campaigning on live television, fails to perform requested tricks. He can only muster an audible “woof.”

Tim takes Elwood to a local bar to sing classic pub tunes, such as “Mary Had a Little Lamb” and “Down by the Old Mill Stream.” Unfortunately for Tim, Elwood does not comply.

Daniels offers a $2,000 reward for the recovery of the Borgia Ring, a bit more than the twenty-five cents he gives Brian for cleaning the garage.

A food fight involving cherry pies ensues at a function hosted by Slade.

While in canine form, Daniels acts like a real dog. Among other activities, he roller skates and drives a truck. Ok, well, maybe normal dogs don’t do those things, but so it goes.

Relationship to Other Disney Films

Locales called Medfield were previously featured in The Absent-Minded Professor (1961), Son of Flubber (1963), The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes (1969), Now You See Him, Now You Don’t (1972), and The Strongest Man in the World (1975). In these films, Medfield was the name for colleges rather than towns.

The Shaggy D.A. was the last of nineteen Disney films to be directed by Robert Stevenson, who was named a Disney Legend in 2002.  Stevenson had previously directed Johnny Tremain (1957), Old Yeller (1957), Darby O’Gill and the Little People (1959), Kidnapped (1960), The Absent-Minded Professor, In Search of the Castaways (1962), Son of Flubber, The Misadventures of Merlin Jones (1964), Mary Poppins (1964), The Monkey’s Uncle (1965), That Darn Cat! (1965), The Gnome-Mobile (1967), Blackbeard’s Ghost (1968), The Love Bug (1968), Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971), Herbie Rides Again (1974), The Island at the Top of the World (1974), and One of Our Dinosaurs Is Missing (1975) for the studio.

The Shaggy D.A. was the ninth of ten Disney films to star Dean Jones, who was named a Disney Legend in 1995. Jones had previously starred in That Darn Cat!, The Ugly Dachshund (1966), Monkeys, Go Home! (1967), Blackbeard’s Ghost, The Horse in the Gray Flannel Suit (1968), The Love Bug, The Million Dollar Duck (1971), and Snowball Express (1972) for Disney; and he subsequently held the lead role in Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo (1977). Jones would later make a cameo in the 1997 remake of That Darn Cat!

The Shaggy D.A. marked the fourth of five Disney films to feature Tim Conway during the 1970s, following The World’s Greatest Athlete (1973), The Apple Dumpling Gang (1975), and Gus (1976), and preceding The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again (1979). Conway was named a Disney Legend in 2004.

Suzanne Pleshette had previously appeared with Dean Jones in The Ugly Dachshund and Blackbeard’s Ghost.

Keenan Wynn had previously starred as the main antagonist in The Absent-Minded Professor, Son of Flubber, Snowball Express, and Herbie Rides Again for Disney.

Michael McGreevey, who portrayed Schuyler in The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes, Now You See Him, Now You Don’t, and The Strongest Man in the World, is afforded a small role in The Shaggy D.A., portraying Sheldon at the dog pound.

Another Honest John, with morals comparable to those of John Slade, was featured in Pinocchio (1940).

Overall

The Shaggy D.A. is often hysterical, even if the plot is a bit lacking.

What do you think of The Shaggy D.A.? Let me know in the comments!

 

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