Deputy district attorney Dave Douglas may be on the cusp of taking over as DA, but he's not the most popular guy at home. As a workaholic who repeatedly neglects his wife and two kids, Dave is currently consumed with prosecuting his daughter's social studies teacher, who's been charged with setting ablaze an animal laboratory.
There's more to the story than Dave thinks, however. Led by the power-hungry Dr. Kozak, a team of scientists and entrepreneurs have secretly captured a mysterious 300-year-old sheepdog from Tibet and are trying to extract its fountain-of-youth gene to make millions. Their experimentation on various animals has left a trail of mutants (barking chimps and bulldog-frogs), which they're trying to cover up by framing the teacher. But when the canine breaks free, finds its way to the Douglas family (who name him Shaggy) and bites Dave, the attorney turns into a Shaggy look-alike ... and eventually discovers the truth.
Dave's transformations aren't just physical. His journey into doggiedom allows him to see and hear things about his family he normally wouldn't have, which causes a radical change of heart. "I'm gonna be a better man," he vows to himself after watching his wife, Rebecca, recall how he used to be and consider leaving him. The repentant Dave follows through by telling her that he loves her more often—and proving it through his actions.
He affirms his daughter, Carly, for standing up for what she believes in. And he encourages his middle school musical-loving son, Josh, to follow his passion rather than appease his father's macho ambitions for him by playing football. "Whatever you love, I'm gonna love and support, too," he says. In fact, Dave admits to a teacher that he's the problem for his son's sudden poor grades, then tells her that "there's nothing more important to me than family."
Along the way, The Shaggy Dog preaches its fair share of Disneyfied positive messages. Family comes first. Time and communication with loved ones (especially family members) is essential. What you do—not just what you say—counts. And, as Dave learns from his daughter, "Just because something seems ridiculous doesn't mean it isn't true. It just takes more courage to believe in it."
While Dave's transformations are certainly mystical, they're rationalized by the animal-mutant serum that's transferred via blood cells when Shaggy bites him. But, Shaggy is referred to as a "sacred" dog, and the movie opens with a group of Tibetan Buddhist monks—and the wondrous sheepdog—chanting, praying and meditating in front of a golden shrine. Later, Dave learns that the only way he can force his dog-self to change into his human-self is to meditate (to lower his heart rate), and a group of animals assume yoga-like positions to help him get the job done.
Dave comments about Carly being a "good girl" because she "went to church camp."
Every time Dave transforms from a dog back into a human, he winds up in his birthday suit. (The camera never ducks below his chest.) On one occasion, he peeks down at his privates (covered by a blanket) and smiles after being reassured that he's back to normal. Another time, he kisses his wife while he's still naked—on the steps of the city courthouse. A few naked jokes and comments are made.
Carly and her boyfriend end up in her room alone and try to kiss before Dave (as a dog) interrupts. During his early dog-transforming days, Dave asks if his wife's "in heat" and licks her face instead of kissing her. Carly is shown in a bikini, and Rebecca wears a low-cut evening gown.
Dave, still human but acting like a dog, chases a cat, which results in him barreling into an elderly woman with a walker (she's knocked into a tree), wrecking a lunch table and running into traffic. The pursuit ends with a semi smashing into the back of a sports car.
In what may be the film's most disturbing scene, Dr. Kozak betrays his aging partner-in-crime by injecting him with a chemical that induces seizure-like convulsions, then renders him mute and nearly comatose. The maniacal doctor also threatens to cut the doggish Dave "up like a birthday cake," specifically hinting at snipping off his nose and opening him up. A few people are zapped with an amped-up cattle prod and fall hard to the ground.
While trying to escape from his cage, Dave takes a harsh tumble. As a dog, he races face-first into a plate glass window to test whether he's dreaming or not. He begins to attack one of Carly's friends. Human again, he has a near-accident while driving a car full of mutant animals. His automobile is later shown smashed, a result of the animals driving on their own. Josh gets tackled hard during a football game.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Rebecca has a glass of champagne at a restaurant. Others are shown with wine. Dave jokingly asks his assistant if she's been drinking. When a K-9 unit German shepherd excitedly sniffs Dave's backside in an elevator, its trainer inquires with a laugh, "You don't have anything illegal up there, do you?"
Other Negative Elements
Carly shows her dad little respect by talking back to him and even wearing a shirt that features his face behind a big red circle with a slash across it. She also attempts to sneak out of the house and get a tattoo without her father knowing. (It should be noted, however, that the movie later asserts in no uncertain terms that it's more effective to ink your passions on paper rather than skin.) When a girl asks Josh whether his dad is stupid, he responds, "No, but he is clueless." He also purposefully flunks math in a scheme to get around his father's football dreams for him.
Carly and a friend sneak into a building and steal Shaggy, then lie about it. Dave also "breaks in" while he's a dog. Likewise, Dr. Kozak's men steal the canine from its original Tibetan owners. The doctor lies repeatedly, even while on the stand in court, and Dave tells a fib to his boss to cover up his canine capers. Dave steals roses from a neighbor's yard.
The camera zooms in when a man's underwear is shown after his pants split. Several urinating jokes go along with a bathroom scene in which Dave (as a man) relieves himself alongside other guys—with his leg raised in the air.
At its core, The Shaggy Dog has a lot in common with, of all things, Charles Dickens' Christmas Carol. Both are about workaholic men who've made life miserable for those around them because of their selfish ways. Both get the opportunity to see their lives from a completely different perspective. And as a result, both do a complete about-face. Scrooge does so after being confronted by three spirits. Dave does so while chasing his own tail.
This Disney remake of the company's own 1959 original comes a decade or so after the Disney Channel aired a made-for-TV rendition. I'm unsure as to why Mickey & Co. deemed it necessary to tell the story a third time, unless it was to add 21st century updates in the form of potty humor, cultural references and issues: animal rights.
At times cute, at times groan-inducing, the movie gives away its obvious intentions during an exchange between Rebecca and Dave. "You have to do something more than just talk a good game," she tells her husband. "You have to follow through. You have to connect with the whole family." Thus, par for the Disney course, The Shaggy Dog offers just enough positive messages and redemption to reel in parents looking for a moral-of-the-story movie for their kids, and just enough silliness—the mildly questionable kind included—to keep kids lapping it up.