I had hope. I wouldn't exactly say high hope, but I had hope that "The Shaggy Dog," the remake of the 1959 Disney film starring Fred MacMurray, would be cute, endearing and a perfectly fine family film.
Tim Allen takes over the MacMurray role in this mildly updated remake, as an Assistant D.A. prosecuting a case involving the use of laboratory animals and an arson allegedly set by an environmental activist/high school teacher.
Of course, all of this serves to set up the typical Disney "family" scenario: 1)Father is obsessed with work and representing something his family opposes. In this case, the teacher in question is his daughter's (Zena Grey) teacher and the daughter is an active animal rights activist, 2)Said father neglects family and is out of touch with the long-suffering wife (Kristin Davis), non-athletic son (Spencer Breslin) and the rebellious daughter, and 3) Father experiences some dramatic event (in this case, being bitten by a 300-year old dog who is the subject of the previously noted lab experiments by an obviously mad scientist (Robert Downey, Jr.).
In the first five minutes, even without prior knowledge of the original film, you will have no doubt about the events to transpire and how the film will ultimately end.
Of course, this is a kid's film. Kid's films should not be complex. So, a certain amount of the predictability and easygoing nature of the film is expected and acceptable.
"The Shaggy Dog" is not really a bad film. It is a reasonably cute, occasionally funny film that allows Allen to capitalize on his self-deprecating humor and modest gifts for physical comedy in a way that is inoffensive, occasionally original and certainly fits with the Disney vision of family-friendly and positive films.
The problem with "The Shaggy Dog" lies in the film's lack of energy, stilted dialogue and, ultimately, a cast that seems to realize this is nothing more than a paycheck film. As directed by Brian Robbins ("Good Burger," "The Perfect Score" and "Ready to Rumble"), "The Shaggy Dog is a disconnected film that takes an absurd premise and never commits to it. The result is a largely wasted supporting cast including the aforementioned Downey, Jr. along with Jane Curtin, Phillip Baker Hall and Danny Glover.
Only Downey comes out of this mess largely unscathed, but even he is clearly restrained here and his scenes so disconnected that their comic potential is never fully explored as he becomes more and more "mad" over the course of the film. Joel David Moore, who was so horrid in the recent "Grandma's Boy," redeems himself nicely as a pound employee and Jeanette Brox entertains in only a few minutes onscreen. The film also features needless cameos from Laura Kightlinger and Craig Kilborn.
The script, by Cormac and Marianne Wibberley, is disjointed and underwritten. The dialogue is almost cringe-inducing and, most definitely, the sort of "kid-friendly" dialogue one would find on an episode of "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood." In case you are wondering, this is NOT a compliment.
"The Shaggy Dog" ends up being the worst kind of film...mediocre. In the screening I attended, parents were struggling to maintain control of their children as they began playing games, running aisles and fidgeting uncontrollably. One can argue, of course, this is irritating and distracting for those of us watching the film...yet, it's actually a marvelous gift to a discerning critic.
When the kids ain't watching then your family film ain't working.
Despite an above average cast, "The Shaggy Dog" is nothing more than a mangy mutt. It's mildly adorable, but ultimately nothing you will ever take home and, in this case, YOU are the one who will be put to sleep.