Walt Disney saw his studio’s future in 1959, and the future was goofy (with a lower-case ‘g’).
Disney had been working in live-action since 1941’s The Reluctant Dragon, but The Shaggy Dog started a trend that has become a Disney live-action staple: the zany sitcom fantasy.
When troubled teen Wilby Daniels visits a museum, he unknowingly brings home a souvenir – an ancient ring that falls into the cuff of his trousers.
When Wilby reads the inscription on the ring, a magic spell transforms him into a large, shaggy sheepdog. To make an awkward situation worse, the boy’s father is allergic to dogs, which forces the dog/boy to spend most of his time at the house of pretty neighbour Franceska Andrassy.
The spell is an unpredictable one, turning Wilby from teen to pooch and back at the least opportune moments.
As a dog, Wilby overhears Franceska’s father plotting to steal government secrets for the Soviets. Again human, the boy convinces his father of his shaggy secret identity, but Comrade Andrassy learns Wilby’s secret as well.
The dastardly spy kidnaps his own daughter and flees, forcing a climactic canine rescue attempt.
The surprising success of The Shaggy Dog affected Disney in several ways. Made for a modest budget (especially in comparison to the same year’s Sleeping Beauty), the film proved that sitcom stylings blended with kooky fantasy could be an extremely profitable venture.
The Absent-Minded Professor (1961) continued the trend two years later, followed by The Parent Trap (1961), The Misadventures of Merlin Jones (1964) and so on to Air Bud, My Favorite Martian and beyond.
The film also marked the first pairing of Disney and actor Fred MacMurray, who would go on to star in several of the studio’s 1960’s comedies.
Another pair, Tommy Kirk and Kevin Corcoran (playing Wilby and younger brother Moochie), had already appeared together as brothers in 1957’s Old Yeller and would repeat the relationship in several more Disney films over the ensuing years.
The film itself spawned a 1976 sequel, The Shaggy D.A., with an all-new cast.
Dr Mikhail Andrassy