Director: Charlene Dunlap
Stars: Stoney, April, Sam and Molly
Index: Weird Wednesdays.
This week’s Weird Wednesday review isn’t remotely horrific, sexual or inappropriate in any way and I just hope that you won’t be too disappointed. However it is certainly weird, at least to me, because Charlene Dunlap didn’t just make one movie about dogs played by real dogs, but at least ten of them, according to her website, Canine Horizons, right up to the newest, The Whisperwood Arsonist, in which JD and Sydney, a pair of doggy detectives, solve the mystery of the arsonist who lights ‘suspicious fires on Whisperwood Lane’. In fact, that’s even a sequel, to The Theft of the Rothchild Ruby. Those films only run ten minutes or so and are available to view on YouTube, but this one, with its cuteness overload title, runs past thirty and is only available on DVD. There are five such half hour shorts for sale at Canine Horizons and I’ll be covering two of them for this week’s Weird Wednesday, starting with this one, which does at least have a plot and a three act structure. I’m still not quite sure what the other one has.
Dunlap is a dog lover, first and foremost, given how the variety of material on her website descends all the way to poodle limericks and cartoons, but a dog trainer not far after that. There’s nothing strange in that and she certainly seems like a very nice lady who cares very much for her animals and trains them to the best of her ability with patience. I don’t doubt that, based on what I see here. What I doubt is her sanity, because she seems utterly sincere in reading her dogs bedtime stories. At least when her fellow human co-actor, Lynn Franklin, answers the phone, realises it’s one of Charlene’s poodles and promptly hands it to her own, saying, ‘It’s for you, Sam,’ she does so with a knowing air to her, as if she’s playing along for the sake of the film. Charlene, who wrote, directed and edited, doesn’t seem to acknowledge any weirdness here at all. Her clear lack of acting ability doesn’t help, because we know inherently that the character we see is the character she is, simply because she can’t pretend not to be.
Yes, April takes the wand which Charlene left conveniently hanging off the table for her, waves it around and, hey, there’s a dog fairy played by Molly, who seriously gets an ‘introducing’ credit at the beginning as if she’s already signed by a major studio and booked to co-star with Vin Diesel in her next picture. At least she could out-act him too. Sure, Molly’s a mischevious little dog fairy, though she teleports around with a reasonable sparkly effect rather than flying around on invisible wings. I was hoping for that, but it clearly wasn’t anywhere in the budget to be found. Most of the rest of the movie revolves around Stoney and April finding themselves in all sorts of trouble, for which they’re never punished in the slightest, and trying to find a way out of it by using the cool techniques they learned during training, like calling in the cavalry and taking a Polaroid of the little monster knocking coloured toilet rolls off the counter. To show the depth of humour here, they’re even taken to Dr Q T Wags, dog psychologist. Actually I liked that.
If it’s decent as a story, it’s pretty awful as a film. The editing leaps out for most disdain, because there are so many wasted opportunities to show off the skills of these dogs, which was surely the whole point of making the movie to begin with. Yes, we see all four animals in the story doing tricks, but they’re set up horribly. Instead of using long takes to demonstrate how clever the creatures are, we get fast cuts to the moment of truth. If April can ring a doorbell when asked, then let’s see a single take from command to ring, not a cut to her paw on the bell. I got the impression from some of Dunlap’s stumbled dialogue that she just wasn’t interested in multiple takes; her work was in training the dogs to begin with, so the film should just be shot quickly and edited together to make it seem as real as possible. Given that she also apparently has no problem with using not one but three separate wah wah waaah sound effects, I have no real investment in her ability to make good judgement calls.
Let’s just leave The Fuzzy Fairy Incident: A Furry Tale bemused at the idea of a dog trainer making films (plural) without any apparent knowledge of filmmaking technique beyond pointing a camera in the right direction. Let’s leave shocked at the realisation that the whole point is to showcase the tricks that these dogs have learned but which was apparently forgotten once that camera was switched on. Let’s leave in the knowledge that the best actors on screen are canine, even though two of their persons share a host of scenes (a dog’s owner here is not called ‘an owner’ but ‘its person’). Let’s leave in the understanding that there are four more of these half hour films out there, including ones in which the leading doggies don’t have banal names like Molly and Sam but spaced out hippie ones like Cherdon Moon Dancer and Myramagic Wizard of Ahhs. Let’s leave in the knowledge that at least this contains no dream sequence poodle poetry from Charlene Dunlap, presumably ‘doggerel’ in more ways than one. But let’s leave.