The Shaggy D.A. (1976)

Where can you go after The Shaggy Dog? Well, you become a canine district attorney, I guess. And after eighteen other films for Disney, this would be the last film of director Robert Stevenson. Those movies made him the most commercially successful director in the history of film (at least in 1977).

Made in 1959, The Shaggy Dog had been at that point the most profitable film produced by Disney and created the template for their live-action films: place something supernatural inside modern life and then let hijinks ensue. These were inexpensive movies made with TV actors on summer break from their series shot on the Disney backlot that had little to no risk. They could play matinees and then would eventually show up on The Wonderful World of Disney*. Made for around a million, The Shaggy Dog made $9 million on its first release and even more when it came out of the fabled Disney vault for another release in 1967.

Another thing that obsesses me about these Disney movies is that they are set in a cinematic universe before that even became a fact of moviemaking. Yes, so many of them are set in Medfield, a town that is also the setting for The Absent-Minded Professor, Son of Flubber and the Dexter Riley trilogy that contains The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes, Now You See Him Now You Don’t and The Strongest Man in the World.

In the seventeen years between movies**, Wilby Daniels (Dean Jones) became a successful attorney and married Betty (Suzanne Pleshette). When they return from a vacation, they discover that they’ve been robbed and Wilby blames district attorney John Slade (Keenan Wynn — wait what!?!) who is connected to mob boss Edward “Fast Eddie” Roshak (Vic Tayback — again, this movie has the casting of my dreams). After he’s burglarized again — two times in a day — Wilby decides he’s going to run for district attorney.

Seriously, it’s like they asked me to pick people and roles for them in this movie. I would answer, “Please put Jo Anne Worley in this as a roller derby star” and poof! My dream comes true! “How about Richard O’Brien as a desk sergeant?” Disney may say, “You mean Riff Raff? You want him to randomly show up?” And it happens! “Can Jo Anne Worley date Tim Conway?” You know it!

Look, this movie is absolutely ridiculous but it’s made for kids and as a child, if someone turned into a dog when they were trying to do grown-up things I’d literally piss my pants. That’s how I reviewed movies back then.

*And now we watch them on Disney Plus.

**Someone at Disney is as big a continuity maniac as the old DC Universe used to be, because they made The Return of the Shaggy Dog, an attempt at showing what happened in the period between these movies. Gary Kroeger played Wilby Daniels. That said, let me get a little deep here, but the transformation ruleset changes in each film. In the first one, Wilby read the inscription on the ring once and then would randomly become a dog until he did something heroic. In the sequel, he becomes a dog any time someone reads the words and it only lasts for a few minutes. And then in the TV movie, Wilby’s transformation is triggered any time the inscription “In canis corpore transmuto” is read. Man, that’s like Dial H for Hero trying to figure out how to work in a smartphone world.

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