- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 9, 2006

When Disney crafted family flicks “The Shaggy Dog” (1959) and its sequel “The Shaggy D.A.” (1976), Americans didn’t have the luxury — and frivolity — of doggie day care, doggie bakeries and dog psychiatrists. Back in those simpler times, people merely loved their dogs, just as they loved the straightforward “Shaggy Dog” movie formula: man turned accidentally into dog.

Time changes things for dogs, and for audiences, as well. Miraculously, this year’s reborn “Shaggy Dog” manages to bring the beloved story up to date — pampered pooches, computer-generated graphics and all — while still honoring the spirit of the originals.

It pokes fun at designer-coffee-drinking yuppies and their obnoxious dogs, calls big corporations into question and even hinges largely on the dilemma of intrafamilial disconnect. But it never loses sight of what made these movies so popular in the first place: a lovable sheepdog. Aww.

Family entertainment veteran Tim Allen provides the perfect keystone for a well-cast bunch. Mr. Allen plays Dave Douglas, a work-obsessed deputy district attorney who seems more than a little out of touch with his wife, darling “Sex in the City” star Kristin Davis, and two kids.

In court, Douglas represents bad-guy Dr. Kozak (Robert Downey Jr.) and his creepy corporation. Unknown to Douglas, Kozak’s group has been researching a gene-modifying serum for long life in a top-secret lab. The lab teems with frightening mutant animals, as well as the shaggy dog himself, a 300-year-old pooch who’s been dognapped in order to discover his age-defying secrets.

In a fluke, the dog escapes and bites Douglas, thus beginning the man’s metamorphosis into four-legged friend. Where the man-to-dog transition in Disney’s previous films transpired almost instantaneously and through laughable “special effects,” the remake lets Mr. Allen slowly milk every last drop of humor in the changeover.

Suddenly, he can smell everything, including the uppity neighbor’s (Craig Kilborn) dog peeing on his lawn. He drives to work with his head out the window. He begins to “growl at opposing counsel” in the courtroom.

In one hilarious scene, he even chases a cat while still human (looking).

Once fully canine, Douglas gains new perspective not only on his family life — discovering, for one, that his son knows more about belting “Greased Lightning” than throwing a touchdown pass — but also on the evil company’s secret project.

This remake revamps its story for modern-day audiences in entertainment terms: Its jokes are funny, all-star actors are perfectly cast, and special effects are so deft that, with just a few exceptions, they make fantasy oddly realistic. When a dog speaks human language, for example, its mouth no longer moves freakishly up and down in unison with the words.

Beyond the escapist fun, however, “The Shaggy Dog” tells a deeper tale about families, morals and dog-kind. It shows us that, maybe, we can actually learn something from animals — like which way to push the work-family balance.

It’s the story we’ve grown up with, but it’s also grown up with us.

***1/2

TITLE: “The Shaggy Dog”

RATING: PG

CREDITS: Directed by Brian Robbins

RUNNING TIME: 112 minutes

WEB SITE: www.disney.go.com/disneypictures/shaggydog

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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