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The Shaggy Dog (1959 film)

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Title: The Shaggy Dog (1959 film)  
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Subject: List of Walt Disney and Buena Vista video releases, Walt Disney anthology television series, List of films about animals, The Return of the Shaggy Dog, Edward Colman (cinematographer)
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The Shaggy Dog (1959 film)

The Shaggy Dog
Theatrical Poster
Directed by Charles Barton
Produced by Walt Disney
Bill Walsh
Written by Lillie Hayward
Bill Walsh
from the novel by
Felix Salten
Starring Fred MacMurray
Jean Hagen
Tommy Kirk
Annette Funicello
Tim Considine
Narrated by Paul Frees (opening only)
Music by Paul J. Smith
Cinematography Edward Colman
Distributed by Buena Vista Distribution
Release dates
  • March 19, 1959 (1959-03-19)
Running time 104 min.
Country United States
Language English
Latin Spanish
Budget under $1 million[1]
Box office $8.1 million (est. US/ Canada rentals)[2]

The Shaggy Dog is a transformed into the title character, a shaggy Old English Sheepdog. The film was based on the story, The Hound of Florence by Felix Salten. It is directed by Charles Barton and stars Fred MacMurray, Tommy Kirk, Jean Hagen, Kevin Corcoran, Tim Considine, Roberta Shore, and Annette Funicello. It was the first ever Walt Disney live-action comedy.

Walt Disney Productions filmed a successful sequel in 1976 called The Shaggy D.A. which starred Dean Jones, Tim Conway, and Suzanne Pleshette. It was followed by a 1987 TV-movie sequel, a 1994 TV-movie remake and a 2006 theatrical remake (see Legacy section below). A colorized version of the film can be found on the 1997 VHS.


Wilby Daniels is constantly misunderstood by his father, Wilson. Wilson thinks Wilby is crazy half the time because of his elder son's often dangerous inventions. As a retired mailman who often ran afoul of canines, he has a hatred of dogs, and he can't understand why his younger son, Montgomery "Moochie" wants a dog so badly.

Wilby and his self-centered rival Buzz Miller take a new French girl, Francesca Andrassé, to the local museum. Wilby gets separated from the other two, who leave without him. Wilby ends up in a new wing, where he encounters former acquaintance Professor Plumcutt (whose newspaper Wilby used to deliver), who tells him all about mystical ancient beliefs, including the legend of the Borgia family, who used shape-shifting as a weapon against their enemies.

On the way out, Wilby collides with a table holding a display case of jewelry, ending up with one of the rings in the cuff of his pants which he finds later. It is the cursed Borgia ring, and when he reads the inscription on it, he turns into Chiffon, Francesca's shaggy Bratislavian sheepdog. Confused about what has happened, Wilby as a dog goes to Professor Plumcutt, who says he has invoked the Borgia curse upon himself, which can only be broken through a heroic act of selflessness. After getting chased out of his own house by his father (who hasn't realized the dog is actually his older son), Wilby has a series of misadventures, as he constantly switches back and forth between human and dog forms. Only Moochie and Professor Plumcutt know his true identity when he is a dog, as Wilby has spoken to them both in dog form. Finally, he goes to a local dance (as a human) and while dancing turns into a dog. He runs out quickly, and goes home.

The next day, Wilby (as a dog) and Moochie are talking when Francesca's butler Stefano comes out and drags Wilby into the house. Stefano and Dr. Valasky (Francesca's adoptive father), discuss plans to steal a government secret, and Wilby (still a dog) overhears. Unfortunately for him, he transforms into human Wilby right in front of the spies and is discovered, but not before he heard Dr. Valasky expressing his wish to get rid of his own daughter.

The spies capture him and force Francesca to leave with them, leaving Wilby (human) bound and gagged in the closet. Moochie sneaks into the house after Dr. Valasky, Stefano and an unwilling Francesca leave, and discovers Wilby, as a dog, bound in the closet. Wilby reveals the secret to his dumbfounded father, who goes to the authorities, only to be accused of being either crazy or a spy himself.

When Buzz appears at the Valasky residence to take Francesca on a date, Wilby (as a dog) steals Buzz's hot rod. Buzz reports this to Officers Hansen and Kelly, who are in disbelief until they see the shaggy dog driving Buzz's hot rod. Mr. Daniels and Moochie follow Buzz and the police, who end up chasing everyone. The spies attempt to leave via boat, but the police call in the harbor patrol to apprehend Dr. Valasky and stop his boat. Wilby (dog form) swims up and wrestles with the men, as Francesca gets knocked out of the boat. He then saves her life and drags her ashore, breaking the curse. When Francesca regains consciousness, Buzz tries to take credit for saving her. This angers Wilby, who is still a dog, and he attacks Buzz. Seconds later, Buzz is surprised to find himself wrestling with the human Wilby, and the real Chiffon reappears. Since he is soaking wet, Francesca concludes that he saved her from the ocean. She hugs and praises Chiffon, while Buzz and Wilby look on helplessly.

Mr. Daniels and Chiffon are declared heroes, Francesca leaves for Paris without her evil adoptive father and former butler, both of whom have been arrested for espionage; and she gives Chiffon to the Daniels family for them to keep as thanks. Since Mr. Daniels has gotten such commendation for foiling a spy ring due to "his love of dogs", he can no longer have his dog-hating attitude, and allows Moochie to care for Chiffon as he wanted a dog all along. Wilby and Buzz decide to forget their rivalry over Francesca and resume their friendship.

Production notes

In the late 1950s, the idea of an adult human turning into a beast was nothing new, but the idea of a teenager doing just that in a movie was considered avant-garde and even shocking in 1957 when AIP released their horror film, I Was a Teenage Werewolf, one of the studio's biggest hits.[3] The Shaggy Dog betrays its successful forebear with Fred MacMurray's classic bit of dialogue: "Don’t be ridiculous — my son isn’t any werewolf! He’s just a big, baggy, stupid-looking, shaggy dog!"[3]

The movie was originally intended as the pilot for a never-made TV series and advertised as "the funniest shaggy dog story ever told," although it is not in fact a story of that genre. The director was Charles Barton, who also directed Spin and Marty for The Mickey Mouse Club. Veteran screenwriter Lillie Hayward also worked on the Spin and Marty serials, which featured several of the same young actors as The Shaggy Dog.

Veteran Disney voice actor Paul Frees had a rare on-screen appearance in the film – for which he received no on-screen credit – as Dr. J.W. Galvin, a psychiatrist who examines Wilby's father (MacMurray). Frees also did his usual voice acting by also playing the part of the narrator who informs the audience that Wilson Daniels is a "man noted for the fact he hates dogs."



The Shaggy Dog was one of the top movies of 1959.


While the movie itself is based on Salten's The Hound of Florence, a novelization of the movie published by Scholastic eight years later in 1967 made some interesting changes to the plot. First, Funicello's character Allison was removed entirely, and her name is not listed among the movie's principal performers. As a result, the rivalry between Wilby and Buzz is greatly reduced. Also, Dr. Valasky is changed into Franceska's uncle, not her adoptive father.


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.


  • The film was followed in 1976 with a theatrical sequel, The Shaggy D.A., starring Dean Jones as a 45-year-old Wilby Daniels.
  • In 1987, a two-part television movie set somewhere in the 17 years between the events portrayed in The Shaggy Dog and The Shaggy D.A., entitled The Return of the Shaggy Dog, presented a post-Saturday Night Live Gary Kroeger as a 30-something Wilby Daniels.


  • In 1994, the first remake of the film was a television movie, with Disney regular Scott Weinger as a teenaged Wilbert 'Wilby' Joseph Daniels, and Ed Begley, Jr. playing a part similar to the one originated by Fred MacMurray in 1959.
  • In 2006, Disney released a remake of the movie with Tim Allen as a 50-something Dave Douglas. This film has an entirely different story, characters, and transformation plot device unrelated to the original trilogy. To tie-in with the theatrical release of the 2006 remake, the original 1959 movie was re-issued in the USA as a special DVD labeled "The Wild & Woolly Edition," which featured the movie in two forms: one in the original black and white, the other a colorized version. The colorized version however is not restored and suffers from age. In the UK, however, the 1959 movie has only ever been made available on DVD in black and white.


  1. ^ Charles Tranberg, Fred MacMurray: A Biography, Bear Manor Media, 2014
  2. ^ "1959: Probable Domestic Take", Variety, 6 January 1960 p 34
  3. ^ a b Arkoff, pp. 61–75
  • Arkoff, Sam (1992). Flying Through Hollywood By The Seat Of My Pants: The Man Who Brought You I Was a Teenage Werewolf and Muscle Beach Party. Birch Lane Press.  

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