The Shaggy Dog is an animated film produced by Walt Disney loosely based on the novel The Hound of Florence by Felix Salten. Released in 1959, the film managed to collect over $9 million during its initial release. It was a huge hit at the time that settled well amongst the kids and adults. Moreover, it was the second-highest-grossing film of 1959.
The movie starred famous actors such as Tommy Kirk, Jean Hagen, and Fred MacMurray. Not only that, the movie received immense acclaim for its performances and animation. So let’s discuss what made the movie such a hit of its time.
The movie is based on a boy named Wilbur Daniels who is always misunderstood by his father Wilson. Wilson thinks that Wilbur is crazy half the time due to his elder son’s innovations. As someone who often ran afoul of canines, Wilson is allergic to dogs and simply cannot understand why his younger son, Montgomery “Moochie” would want a dog.
Wilby along with his rival Buzz Miller visit a local museum with a French girl named Francesca Andrasse. Wilbur is separated from the two who leave without him. Wilbur comes across Professor Plumcutt who tells him about the mystical ancient beliefs including the legend of the Borgia family, who used shapeshifting as a weapon against their enemies.
While leaving, Wilber collides with a case that contains jewelry. Without knowing, he ends up with one of the rings in the cuff of his pants, which is the cursed Borgia Ring. Later, he reads the inscription without knowing what it means “Into a dog’s body I change”. As a result, he turns into a shaggy dog, Named Chiffon. Wilby then goes to Professor Plumcutt and informs him that he invoked the curse of Borgia upon himself. The professor informs him that the curse can only be broken through a heroic act of selflessness.
Wilson not knowing that Wilby has transformed into a dog chases him out of the house. As a result, Wilby goes through several misadventures of transforming between human and dog. Moochie and Professor Plumcutt are the only ones who know his real identity since Wilbur spoke to them in human form. At a local dance in human form, Wilbur accidentally transforms himself into a dog.
At the time, Francesca also owned a dog that was quite similar to Wilbur in dog form. She confuses Wilby with her own dog unknowingly and observes that her dog is acting strangely. She asks her adoptive father Dr. Valasky to watch over him. As soon as she exits, Dr. Valasky’s secret associate enters named Thum. Wilby as a dog hears Thum and Dr. Valasky about stealing a government secret.
Wilby discusses the plan with Moochie and even shares it with his dumbfounded father. While Moochie and Wilby plan the next step, Francesca’s butler drags Wilby inside the house. As a result, Moochie runs to his father for help who shares the news with the authorities but is suddenly finds himself accused of being a spy.
While Stefano and Dr. Valasky discuss and plan to steal the government’s secret, Wilby transforms into a human in front of them and is identified. As a result, the spies capture Wilby and force Francesca to leave with them. While Wilby transforms into a dog and gagged in a closet, fortunately, Moochie sneaks into the house soon after Stefano, Dr.Valasky and Francesca leave.
While Buzz arrives on his hot rod automobile to take Francesca on a date at the Valasky residence, Wilby still in his dog form steals the hot rod. Buzz as a result informs the authorities who are in disbelief until they see a Shaggy dog driving it.
Meanwhile, Wilson and Moochie follow Buzz and the police, who ultimately end up chasing everyone. Aboard a boat, Dr. Valasky is stopped by the harbor patrol and Wilby swims in dog form and wrestles with the man. Meanwhile, Francesca is knocked out of the boat. Wilby then saves her life by dragging her ashore, breaking the spell.
While Francesca regains consciousness, Buzz takes the credit for saving her since Wilby is still in dog form. This angers Wilby who attacks Buzz. A few seconds later, Buzz is surprised to find himself wrestling with Wilby in human form and the real Chiffon appears. Since he is soaking wet, Francesca praises and hugs Chiffon for saving her life. Now that both Wilson and Chiffon are declared heroes, Francesca is able to leave for Paris without her evil adoptive father and butler.
As a result, she hands over Chiffon to the Daniels family, thanking them. On the other hand, Wilson receives a lot of commendation for spoiling a spy ring because of “his love for dogs”.
As a result, he has a change of heart and allows Moochie to care for Chiffon since he had wanted a dog for long. Meanwhile, Wilby and Buzz decide to continue their friendship leaving behind their rivalry over Francesca.
Not only was the film the second-highest-grossing film of 1959 but also the most financially successful film of the 50s. The movie’s budget was less than $1 million but it managed to achieve $9.6 million in domestic theatrical rentals.
This made the film more profitable than the year’s highest-grossing film, Ben-Hur. The year 1967 also saw the re-release of the film, which was again successful.
Apart from the finances, the movie also received positive responses from critics. According to many, the film was a classic, featuring comedy and perfect characterization combined with a solid story. Although much of the credit went to McMurray but it was Kirk whose charm made him the ideal American teen.
The Shaggy Dog was a profitable film due to several reasons. At the time, Walt Disney was able to utilize several techniques that allowed the team to save huge costs. Considering the million-dollar budget, the team managed to squeeze in an ample amount of comedy and action to keep the children and adults entertained.
This also allowed Walt Disney to produce a low-risk film since such films could back their investment from moderate matinee attendance in neighborhood theatres.
When it comes to discussing some of the best-animated films of the 1950s era, The Shaggy Dog cannot be overlooked or ignored. It was one of Walt Disney’s masterpieces that featured some of the most iconic characters. To this day, the movie continues to entertain both kids and adults thanks to its splendid comedy and storyline. This perhaps is the main reason behind the movie being an everlasting success.