In 1959, Walt Disney set a new landmark for timeless family comedies with “The Shaggy Dog,” one of the studio’s very first black-and-white, live-action feature films, and a hilarious twist on the notion of a “shaggy dog story”—in which one madcap event follows another in a tale you just have to follow to its surprising conclusion. In this version, directed by Charles Barton, it was the family’s son, teenaged Wilby Daniels (played by teen screen idol Tommy Kirk) who was transformed into a shaggy sheepdog after being cursed by an ancient amulet. In his shocking new state, Wilby had to convince his dogfearing, pet-allergic mailman father, played with comic charm by Fred MacMurray, that he had been converted into a canine—and would have to stop a secret Soviet spy mission if he was ever to be fully human again. Filled with slapstick chases and unforgettable sight gags, including a sheepdog behind the wheel of a speeding hot rod, the film became utterly unforgettable to almost every child who saw it—ushering in the family comedy genre with a bang.
Everyone’s favorite furry character returned again nearly two decades later, in 1976, with “The Shaggy D.A.,” winning over yet another generation of kids. This time, the story starred Dean Jones as a grown-up Wilby Daniels—a lawyer about to run for election as District Attorney, even though his propensity for suddenly shifting into the body of a dog continued to “hound” him!
Flash forward to the turn of the 21st century…when the hugely popular family comedian Tim Allen began to wonder if he could teach some new tricks to this still-beloved dog tale, bringing the story in brand-new, innovative incarnation to the most demanding and sophisticated moviegoing generation of kids yet. After all, movie technology had made quantum leaps in the years since the original “Shaggy Dog” had so entranced audiences, which would allow Shaggy to come to life with more realism and visual surprises than ever.
Says Allen: “Seeing the original “Shaggy Dog” was a huge event in my childhood—it seemed to have so much magic, and I’ve always thought of it as one of the most memorable and fun movies from that time. But looking back at it, you realize the memory of it has held up far better than the reality of the movie itself. It had a big impact on a lot of kids back then, but the technology used in the late ’50s is now hilariously outdated. So I loved the idea of updating a true classic, of taking something from a long time ago and bringing it to life in a fun and exciting way again. The challenge of really reinventing this story had a very strong appeal to me.”
Known for his creative, family-oriented sense of humor, Allen also liked the idea of taking a walk on the wild side as an actor, exploring his most primal comedy instincts as he envisioned bringing the story up to date from a completely new POV—that of a disconnected father forced at last to see his family through the affectionate eyes of the family dog. When he approached Disney, the studio was equally intrigued by the idea of Allen bringing one of their true classics screaming into the modern era.