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Robert Stevenson is a name that live-action Disney film fans would be very familiar with.
A British film director, his most famous films were the nineteen that he directed for Disney, many of which I’ve already reviewed including Mary Poppins and Bedknobs and Broomsticks. Today we take a look at what would be his last film for the company (as well as his last film overall), The Shaggy D.A.
And remember, SPOILERS AHEAD!
A sequel to The Shaggy Dog (which Robert Stevenson did NOT direct), the film starts off with an enjoyable animated credits sequence with Dean Jones singing the catchy title song of a dog running for district attorney.
After the credits, we’re introduced to Wilby Daniels (from the original film), now an adult lawyer played by Dean Jones. He lives a happy life with his wife, Betty, played by Suzanne Pleshette, and their son, Brian, played by Shane Sinutko.
One day, their house is robbed of almost all their belongings and Wilby is furious. He nonchalantly makes the remark that if he were District Attorney, he’d do something about the crime in the area. His family actually thinks that that’s a good idea and say they’ll support him if he runs.
After the thieves strike again that night, Wilby makes the decision to run for D.A. He goes out on the town campaigning along with his family. His opponent is the corrupt John Slade, played by Keenan Wynn, who’s held the position for many years now due to being backed by organized crime member, Eddie Roshak, played by Vic Tayback. Eddie is nervous about Wilby running, but Mr. Slade tells him not to worry.
Wilby is soon to be interviewed on live TV in his home. Behind closed doors in his study, he’s practicing his speech alongside his song when suddenly he begins to undergo a physical transformation wherein he becomes a sheepdog.
What happened is that a scarab ring was stolen from the local museum by the same thieves who robbed Wilby’s house. They sold the ring to the local ice cream man, Tim, played by funnyman Tim Conway, which he wants to give to his girlfriend, Katrinka, played by Jo Anne Worley. There is an inscription on the ring and when Tim reads it, it casts a spell transforming Wilby into a sheepdog.
Realizing that this is the same thing that happened to him as a kid in the first film, Wilby (as the dog) escapes so the interviewers don’t see him like this. When Tim sees Wilby, he thinks it’s his sheepdog, and is doubly surprised when Wilby (as the dog) starts talking. He realizes he can make a fortune off a talking dog, but Wilby (as the dog) runs away from him.
Not long after, the spell wears off and Wilby is human again! He returns home to complete the interview and afterwards heads out with his son and wife (who are aware of his secret) to find the ring before anyone else reads the inscription and makes him transform into a sheepdog at an inopportune time.
More shenanigans occur, but eventually they discover that Tim was in possession of the ring and gave it to Katrinka. Wilby offers her $2000 for it, but it appears that the ring accidentally fell into a pie she was baking for a recent delivery at a hotel. This results in her, her coworkers, Tim, and the Daniels going to the hotel and looking through all the pies there for the ring resulting in a huge cherry pie fight!
The ring accidentally gets thrown out of a window back into the hands of the same thieves who stole it in the first place. They decide to sell it again, but are caught by an undercover police officer. The ring is taken to the police station where the museum curator, Professor Whatley, played by Hans Conried tells the story of how this ring transformed a boy into a dog many years ago. Mr. Slade’s henchman, Raymond, played by Dick Van Patten, overhears this, (presumably) steals the ring, and returns to Mr. Slade with this information and the theory that Wilby could be that same boy.
Mr. Slade wants to test this theory and invites Wilby to his office. He recites the inscription on the ring and witnesses Wilby’s transformation firsthand. Wilby (as the dog) runs away, even trying to blend it at a woman’s roller derby.
Eventually Wilby (as the dog) is caught by dogcatchers and taken to the pound.
He’s able to understand the dogs, who are all voiced by George Kirby doing impressions of actors including Humphrey Bogart, Edward G. Robinson, and Mae West. He learns from them that he’s soon to discover whether Don Bluth’s All Dogs Go to Heaven is a documentary, but he manages to escape and rescues the other dogs along with him.
Wilby (as the dog) bumps into Tim and finally explains to him what’s going on. Tim is still having a hard time believing that a sheepdog is speaking to him, but he eventually believes Wilby’s story. They, along with Brian, trick Mr. Slade into visiting Eddie’s warehouse and secretly record their conversation confirming that Mr. Slade has ties to organized crime. The other dogs retrieve the ring for Wilby and when he turns back into a human, he escapes along with Tim and Brian.
Mr. Slade and Raymond go after them, but are soon pulled over by a policeman for speeding. Due to reciting the inscription so much, Mr. Slade himself transforms into a dog, a bulldog in particular.
He’s presumably arrested, Wilby wins the election, and Tim and Katrinka adopt the dogs that were rescued from the pound.
And that was The Shaggy D.A.! It’s a pleasant enough film and not a bad one for Robert Stevenson to go out on. It’s nothing spectacular, but it’s a fun ride with many funny scenes. The title song is great and the performances by almost everyone is enjoyable and believable.
I did feel that Vic Tayback’s character didn’t need to exist. Keenan Wynn could have been the only villain and the film would have worked just fine. Also this is a rare occasion where I felt a 90-minute movie could have easily been wrapped up in about 60 minutes instead. There was quite a lot of not necessarily filler, but many scenes that could have been tightened up and nothing would have been lost from the plot. My final criticism is that when the dogs speak, they just forward and rewind the tape of their mouths opening; it’s quite subpar.
Besides that though, it’s an enjoyable film and one I enjoy more than the first film.
So, my final score for this film is 26/35 = 74.29% (C) !
The next review will be posted on December 20, 2022.
4 thoughts on “The Shaggy D.A. (1976)”
The All Dogs Go To Heaven crack made me snort water into my nose, thank you for that :P. This movie is so bizarre, but the original is too. I definitely agree that cerain scenes (THE PIE FIGHT) vastly overstated their welcome and the script definitely needed some tweaking to make it, you know, coherent. It’s one of the better movies of the 70s but that’s kind of damning with faint praise
Whoo, I made Cali snort water, lol!
Thanks for reading! Yeah, it sounds like we have similar views on this. Your review is on my TBR and hopefully I’ll get to it today!
I remember seeing this at the theater in late 1976 or so. I wanted to see the movie, especially seeing the tv ads of the pie fight & other fun. I remember getting there late (typical of my family & me) and staying into the next showing to see the opening credits & scenes. I don’t think Raymond had to steal the ring, as I always figured since Slade was DA, he could request the ring just by asking for it. Dean Jones & Suzanne Pleshette had played husband & wife in another Disney film 10 years earlier, “The Ugly Dachshund”, and they were also both in yet another Disney movie 2 years later, “Blackbeard’s Ghost”. I don’t remember if you’ve reviewed those films yet or not, but I’ll look when I’m done here.
You make a point about Slade being DA. I guess they could have been clearer about that point.
Yes, I have reviewed both The Ugly Dachshund and Blackbeard’s Ghost already. Feel free to check them out!