Before watching the movie:
While I’d seen brief promos for this movie before with other Disney home video rereleases, I never really got an idea of what it was like beyond somebody turning into a dog. I did see the Tim Allen remake, but if that draws on anything past the “human turned into a dog” idea, it looks like it has more to do with the sequel The Shaggy D.A. I do see that where that remake used genetic research as the catalyst for the metamorphosis, I’m kind of amused that this is just “a magic ring”. Or rather, a magic ring the Borgias had, because dropping random historical names makes things sound more legitimate.
I know a few more details now but I still don’t really know what shape the story will take. It’s always nice to see Fred MacMurray though.
After watching the movie:
Wilby Daniels has a lot of eccentric hobbies, but after accidentally setting off a missile interceptor in the basement, his father Wilson, a retired mailman and active dog hater, insists he clear out his entire collection. A French girl, Francesca, and her gigantic shaggy sheepdog Chiffonn move in next door with her adoptive father Dr. Andrassy. Wilby and his friend/rival Buzz take Francesca out to a museum where Wilby collides with a table full of Borgia jewelry and a ring lands in his pants cuff. When he finds the ring and reads the inscription on it, he turns into Francesca’s dog, though able to speak. Wilby goes back to the museum to talk to Professor Plumcutt about how to turn back and Plumcutt doesn’t have any definite ideas, but tells Wilby the spell might wear off on its own, or come and go like a headache, or might need something like an act of heroism to be fully broken. Wilby’s younger brother Moochie is delighted to have the dog he always wanted but their father never allowed, and is disappointed that Wilby sometimes changes back into his boring brother. As Chiffonn disappears whenever Wilby turns into the dog, Wilby gets mistaken for Chifonn and kept in Francesca’s house, where he overhears Dr. Andrassy, really Valasky, and an associate planning to steal a secret government project, but nobody will believe a talking dog.
There’s so much going on in this movie that Fred MacMurray’s character gets a little lost. After playing a little bit with him suspecting there’s a dog in the house, once the spy plot kicks in he seems superfluous, because who cares about the angry dad with a shotgun looking for a secret dog when the stakes are now international espionage? So when he eventually learns the truth, the only thing the movie can come up with for him is nearly getting institutionalized because nobody believes the story.
This is very definitely a movie that’s mainly just there to put something on the screen. I’m sure that there are plenty of people who are fond of it, but it’s a mess of a romp. Two or three plots don’t so much mix as collide and characters enter just to guess at exposition and then leave the story forever. There’s a lot of things that could be done with the concept, and it sometimes seems like they’re going to try to do all of them. Maybe they could have been better structured, but it just feels like they dropped in everything in a hurry and put it on film.
It’s no wonder this gets distilled to “boy turns into dog antics”, because that’s really the only all that memorable part. There are plenty of better Disney live action movies from the time, but I might just be rating some higher because I have my own fond memories of those. This is ultimately for families, and I’m sure children are delighted by it, but it just feels very flat to me until the final chase. It could have been anything, tries to be everything, and in so doing, doesn’t amount to very much at all.