In the summer of 2003, Disney scored with its update of Freaky Friday, employing the talents of gifted writer Leslie Dixon (Mrs. Doubtfire), Jamie Lee Curtis, and a pre C-cup Lindsay Lohan. The movie not only was a surprise box office hit, but very funny. Lohan deservedly became a star, a fact people are starting to forget, and we re-discovered Curtis’s crack comic timing.
Now, with Pixar and DreamWorks making family films kids and parents cherish for different reasons -- The Incredibles being a prime example -- Disney would have been smart to stick to the formula that earned Freaky Friday over $110 million at the box office and critical kudos. It doesn’t seem that difficult. Article continues below
Apparently it is. All the things that made Freaky Friday so enjoyable are absent in the The Shaggy Dog, Disney’s latest live-action revival. Yes, the latter movie is a physical comedy, but it’s not like Freaky Friday was based on an Albee play; it was heartfelt and it was funny, things The Shaggy Dog don’t come close to achieving.
A huge problem is casting. Tim Allen plays the lead role, a prominent California deputy district attorney and clueless father who is bitten by a mystical dog. First, he exhibits the characteristics of a dog, and eventually he becomes one, commenting on the events around him. The role demands a large amount of physical comedy, so, of course, it should go to a 52-year-old. And, of course, kids love Tim Allen. Well, kids in 1991 did.
Allen’s one talent, his voice, goes unused. Every line he utters is tinged with indifference, like he knows the material is beneath him, an odd approach since he served as a producer on the movie. As the lead, his lackadaisical attitude makes you lose interest very quickly. A more committed comedian could have saved the material for a while longer, though with a script this bad “longer” might be measured in seconds. Five writers make no attempt to create interesting characters (meaning that Danny Glover, Jane Curtin, and Philip Baker Hall get reduced to props), conflicts, or comedic situations. To wit, one scene where Allen chases a cat features an old woman getting plowed over and a sidewalk café turning into a disaster zone while “Who Let the Dogs Out?” plays. I now know what comedy in hell is like.
The only one who profits from the experience is Robert Downey Jr., playing an evil scientist. When he’s onscreen, the Shaggy Dog feels different — more mischievous, more exciting, more fun. In a perfect world, he should have been the lead, not a former sitcom star who has trouble maneuvering outside gentle chauvinism. Disney has a long relationship with Allen, but it’s time to move on. Next time put Downey in the lead. Give screen wife Kristin Davis some backbone. Get Dixon and her insightful eye for family dynamics back into the fray. And, please, for the love of God, put “Who Let the Dogs Out?” back in the bargain bin.