Monday, July 29, 2013

In-Class Movie: "The Slobbery Hound" (Wishbone, 1995)

“Dr. Mortimer looked strangely at us for an instant, and his voice sank almost to a whisper as he answered: ‘Mr. Holmes, they were the footprints of a gigantic hound.’”

--Arthur Conan Doyle, “The Hound of the Baskervilles”

Austin: So we threw an audible this week and we're not covering the Peter Cook version of The Hound of the Baskerville because that link we set up earlier this week....wasn't the full movie. I'm okay with this because now we're reviewing the story from the proper point of view: a dog's.

Sadly, this isn't a parody movie where it's all from the giant hound's POV but instead it's from Wishbone. If you didn't grow up on PBS in the 90s, Wishbone was this short-lived family show where a Jack Russell Terrier recreates classic works of literature. The other half of the show is the same Jack Russell Terrier experiencing something in his warm small town that reminds him of that novel. It's a great way to introduce kids to these books and they always end with recommending the home audience to check out their local library. It's very cute and was a huge influence on me because I would take that to heart and read those classic stories.

This week we're looking at the episode "Slobbery Dog" where Wishbone is accused of knocking over trashcans and chewing on property. So it's up to this wise-cracking dog to clear his name. While that is going on, he takes the place of Sherlock Holmes as he and Watson investigate this crime.

This is a 30 minute kids show where not even that full time is devoted to the Doyle story. And yet they do some impressive things with it. They keep in the structural set-up where Holmes and Watson split up but this time we get it from Sherlock's perspective. They ultimately condense the entire complicated story to "That guy started the legend....that evil guy looks like him. SOLVED IT." And yet they still recreate the big showdown where they confront the hound in the dead of night. Despite this being a kid's show THEY SHOOT THE DOG DEAD.

Ultimately, it's hard to critique this interpretation of Sherlock Holmes considering whenever Wishbone recreates the character, it's always Wishbone in a different plot. So this Sherlock is filled with cheesy lines and glee. (Nobody in these recreations ever question that the character is a dog much in the way that Muppet movies never cause characters to wonder when frogs started talking.) 

We can deal with this episode more as a form of entertainment in a bit but for now, was this a cheap selection for our Hound discussion or is this allowed to fit into the conversation?

Leigh: Wishbone was always one of those shows that when it came on TV, I immediately changed the channel. I think I watched one episode, I want to say that Rip Van Winkle episode, but for the most part it just bored me. I don't mean to sound braggy, but when Wishbone was on air, I was regularly watching Law and Order. Wishbone just never entertained me and I'd much rather watch crime procedurals and syndicated sitcoms. 

That being said, I have to say that I was impressed with what they did with the episode. I'm sure we've both seen movies and TV shows that have adapted various things, Sherlock Holmes or otherwise, that didn't even hit all of the main plot points and yet this half hour kids show did a great job of getting almost all of them. Sure it didn't say just HOW evil the evil Baskervilles were but it got a lot of the other ones. And while I would've been more interested if it had just been Wishbone as Holmes for the whole episode (or even The Hound of the Baskervilles with all the parts played by dogs. SERIOUSLY WHY HAS NO ONE DONE THIS YET?! Even the anime that where the characters are all dogs didn't do this. I think they were missing out on a fantastic opportunity.) I understand that this was for a kid centered audience. The whole relating the story to a real life situation thing was super cheesy. It kinda ruined the rest of it for me. Also, just because you take a polaroid of a dog sitting in your yard doesn't mean he was the one who chewed on your ugly lawn furniture. 

"Got passed over for the Hounds adaptation again." "Damn, I'm sorry Spot."
And while it isn't the truest adaptation out there, I definitely think it has a place in the discussion for the very reason you said: it got you to read. Whether or not more people are reading today than before the internet or if it's really just the publishing industry that's being hurt by advances in technology is a completely different discussion but one thing I think we can all agree on is that people need to read more. While I hate the Twilight books (also another discussion) one thing they did do was get people to pick up a book and read and get interested in reading. There are numerous people I know who didn't used to read for fun until they picked up those crappy books and found out that reading could be a form of entertainment. So while Wishbone might not have gotten all of the details, if it got kids interested in reading the real story, then I think it should be included. 

So if you look at all of the components it did a great job for what it was. But do you think there might've been a better way to do this? What if they used a different Sherlock Holmes story?  And why is everyone in that cul de sac so dumb?

Austin: For the record, I'm a few years younger than Leigh so when Wishbone was on I was at the prime age. Also you were getting sleepy during the Rip Van Winkle episode? Bit too on the nose for me.

So the parallel storyline set in their cul-de-sac is a good and bad thing in my mind. On one hand, it's very very cheesy. The whole neighborhood jumping to accuse Wishbone is a bit insane considering he's a small Jack Russell Terrier with a solid history. When they were gathering some pretty obvious evidence, nobody mentioned that Wishbone can't even reach that arm chair in order to chew on it. 

"Now I caught you gray-handed." (Just because he's Sherlock Holmes doesn't make him any less color-blind.)

Yet the story also introduced kids to an analytical approach to solving a mystery. This fit right in with Sherlock Holmes especially their roles as detectives hoping to defend an innocent client. While it worked for a children's program, it doesn't work for a full family audience. Every adult in that story should have known better than to accuse a little dog of this destruction, but at least they took the time to take the steps to the conclusion. (Even if one step was a ridiculous computer program that can analyze the drawing of a paw print. The 90s - Nobody really gets how computers work!)

There's an innocence with Wishbone that I miss from other family programs. It's slower in pace and doesn't have to be WACKY to get the kids' attention. Sure the neighbor is a bit weird, but the adults aren't written as complete idiots. There's a value to storytelling and intelligence that I give the show a lot of credit for. Even though their scripts are a too simplified. I had fun watching this.

Shockingly there was another Sherlock Holmes episode of Wishbone where they covered A Scandal in Bohemia. It's of course called A Dogged Expose. Perhaps we shall cover that one day in the future. 

There is the interesting question about the structure of this show. Do we need the segments set in modern day? Could they just do a voice-over from Wishbone at the beginning saying that today he's reading The Hound of the Baskerville and not look for parallels? This way they can have a longer adaptation. Or do they need the modern day elements to make it relatable to its viewers?

Leigh: First off, I'm not THAT much older than you. 

Because I don't have a lot of experience with Wishbone, I'm going to assume that every episode was more or less formatted this way with half story and half cul-de-sac story. I think that most kids, or at least kids I know and from what I remember when I was that age, are smart enough to make connections without something as obvious as a B plot relating the story to modern day smacking them in the face. I think a whole episode devoted to Hound of the Baskervilles would've been great. I would love to see what the Wishbone writing team could do with half an hour instead of really about 15 minutes. They did a great job of incorporating much of the story anyway; I think that with the full half hour, it would've been a fantastic adaptation. 

I've always been frustrated in situations where I'm talked down to and I think that the reason why I disliked this episode of Wishbone so much was because it was, like most television, written for the lowest common denominator and that must be a dead raccoon. Many children's movie directors have said that you don't want to talk down to kids. Pixar is a great example. There are very few moments of the Pixar oeuvre that are so on the nose that even that dead raccoon goes, "OOOOH! I GET IT!" and yet their audience, parents and children, love and appreciate the movies and get what the message was. I think that there are plenty of examples out there of kid's TV that isn't written for every dead raccoon in the audience to understand. 

One of the more subtle moments in Pixar history.

Next time, Sherlock Holmes is a zombie and Sebastian Moran is just trying to do what you're supposed to do to zombies. 

And now Austin Lugar with the final words!

Austin: Leigh is way older than me.

No comments:

Post a Comment