The Shaggy D.A. is a 1976 film sequel to 1959's The Shaggy Dog by Walt Disney Productions. It was directed by Robert Stevenson and written by Don Tait, based on the original film and inspired by the long out-of-print Felix Salten novel, The Hound of Florence.
Wilby Daniels (Dean Jones) is now a successful attorney who is married to Betty (Suzanne Pleshette), and they have a son named Brian (Shane Sinutko). Returning to the town of Medfield from a vacation, the family discovers that they have been robbed of almost all their possessions and Wilby blames the local district attorney John Slade (Keenan Wynn), who is reputed to have connections with organized crime, particularly with warehouse owner Edward "Fast Eddie" Roshak (Vic Tayback). After being robbed a second time later that night (along with their Navy admiral neighbor), Wilby vows to run for district attorney to make his town safe again.
Meanwhile, the two thugs who had robbed the Daniels', Freddie (Richard Bakalyan) and Dip (Warren Berlinger), observe the Borgia Ring at the local museum and assume it might fetch a large sum so they steal it. The ugly ring with a scarab on it can only be pawned off to local bumbling ice cream salesman Tim, who is the owner of a large Old English Sheepdog named Elwood. Tim figures he will give the ring to his girlfriend Katrinka, a local roller derby star and pastry assistant.
While dressing himself in preparation for a live television broadcast to announce his candidacy, Wilby hears a report of the Borgia ring being stolen. He freezes in terror, then reveals his former shape-shifting secret to his wife who is certain his story cannot be true; he warns her that if the inscription on the ring ("In canis corpore transmuto") is spoken aloud he will turn into a shaggy dog. Soon afterwards, Wilby is moments before his live television debut as Tim discovers the inscription on the ring and reads it aloud, causing Elwood to disappear – only to reappear moments later as he takes over Wilby’s body. Moments before the cameras roll, Brian notices that shaggy hair is growing all over his father who reacts in horror as he realizes he is turning into a dog. He rushes from the house and cameras in his dog form and briefly confounds Tim who can’t understand why his dog Elwood suddenly can speak. The spell wears off and Wilby is now in his human form again and determined to find the ring as he faces the prospect of being a candidate in the public eye who never knows when he might turn into a dog. This proves a problem as Wilby turns into a dog during a ladies' garden event, and he gets captured and sent to the dog pound. Wilby learns that as a dog he can communicate with other dogs, and gets them to command an escape from the pound.
Meanwhile, John Slade is wondering why Wilby does not show up to events whereas a dog does. Connecting it with the theft of the ring under his watch, he offers a large cash reward to anyone who can bring him the ring. Katrinka loses the ring in a pie crust while making pastries for a Slade fundraiser, which results in a pie fight as the bakery employees rush to get the ring to claim the reward. With both the police and gangsters under his watch, Slade is confident he can get rid of Wilby, but Wilby manages to evade them by disgusing himself as a roller derby contestant. Later he transforms into a dog and gets the other dogs to aid him in stopping Slade's goons. At a later point, Wilby reverts to human form and is invited to Slade's office.
In Slade's office all appears normal until Slade produces the ring and reads the inscription. Wilby transforms into a dog in Slade's office, who laughs and says the writings about the curse were true. In order to keep Wilby out of the race and ostracized by the town, Slade repeats the ring's inscription multiple times. After a certain point Wilby does not transform. Slade is puzzled, then shocked to realize that by chanting the inscription so many times he has transferred the Borgia curse from Wilby to himself, and then looks in the mirror and sees he is now a bulldog.
It is a happy ending for all as Freddie, Dip and Fast Eddie are arrested while Slade is doomed to doghood. Wilby wins the election and as the new D.A. vows to get a better police force, as well as resuming his life with Betty and Brian. Tim asks Katrinka to marry him, and with Betty and Wilby they work to get homes for all the stray dogs who helped Wilby.
The Shaggy Dog had been at that point the most profitable film produced by Walt Disney Productions and heavily influenced the studio's live-action film production for the next two decades. Using a formula of placing supernatural and/or fantastical forces within everyday mid-twentieth century American life, the studio was able to create a long series of "gimmick comedies" (a term coined by Disney historian and film critic Leonard Maltin) with enough action to keep children entertained with a touch of light satire to engage their adult chaperones. Using television actors on their summer hiatus who were familiar to audiences but did not necessarily have enough clout to receive over-the-title billing (or a large fee) from another major studio was one way these comedies were produced inexpensively; they also tended to use the same sets from the Disney backlot repeatedly. This allowed Walt Disney Productions a low-risk scenario for production, any of these films could easily make back their investment just from moderate matinee attendance in neighborhood theatres, and they could also be packaged on the successful Disney anthology television series The Wonderful World of Disney (some of these films were expressly structured for this purpose).
Occasionally Walt Disney Productions would find one of these inexpensive comedies would become a runaway success and place at or near the top of the box office for their respective release year (The Absent-Minded Professor, The Love Bug). The initial release of The Shaggy Dog grossed more than $9 million on a budget of less than $1 million – an almost unprecedented return on a film investment, making it more profitable than Ben-Hur, released the same year. The Shaggy Dog also performed very strongly on a 1967 re-release.
Cast and crew
Dean Jones and Suzanne Pleshette were frequently paired in other Disney gimmick comedies, such as Blackbeard's Ghost and The Ugly Dachshund. Keenan Wynn had played villainous Alonzo Hawk in many other Disney comedies before taking on the role of John Slade.
This is the last of 19 films Robert Stevenson directed at Disney that spanned nearly 20 years. His first was Johnny Tremain in 1957, he also directed a number of episodes for the series Disneyland. This is also Stevenson's final film he directed. The first film he directed was "Happy Ever After", a 1932 German musical.
The story was set in fictional Medfield, a town that (along with its eponymous Medfield College) was the setting for five other Disney gimmick comedies, including The Absent-Minded Professor, Son of Flubber and the “Dexter Riley” trilogy (The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes, Now You See Him, Now You Don’t, The Strongest Man in the World).
The mythology of the Borgia ring was changed from the first film, in which young Wilby read the inscription on the ring once and then was the victim of random transformations which could only be stopped if he performed a heroic deed. In this sequel, he simply turned into a dog whenever the ring’s inscription was read aloud, and the spell would generally last from five to ten minutes. In the television movie The Return of the Shaggy Dog (1987), which takes place between the events of the original film and this sequel, the mythology changes once again: now, once the inscription is read, Wilby is trapped in dog form until it is read again. The 2006 remake with Tim Allen eschewed the situation and characters of the three initial films (and also a 1994 television remake which returned the mythology of the original 1959 film) and opted instead for a science fiction device of a man being bitten by a viral dog that infected him with a serum that affected his DNA.
- Dean Jones as Wilby Daniels
- Tim Conway as Tim
- Suzanne Pleshette as Betty Daniels
- Keenan Wynn as John Slade
- Jo Anne Worley as Katrinka Muggelberg
- Dick Van Patten as Raymond
- Shane Sinutko as Brian Daniels
- Vic Tayback as Eddie Roshak
- John Myhers as Admiral Brenner
- Richard Bakalyan as Freddie
- Warren Berlinger as Dip
- John Fiedler as Howie Clemmings
- Hans Conried as Professor Whatley
- Michael McGreevey as Sheldon
- Richard O'Brien as Desk sergeant
- Richard Lane as Roller rink announcer
- Benny Rubin as Waiter
- Hank Jones as Policeman
This film has been seen as a light satire of American politics in the post-Watergate era, with politicians being depicted as tied to crime, and not being what they appear to be.
The film has recently been satirized on the Howard Stern Show by Artie Lange.