When I was a kid in middle school in 1987, I was completely obsessed with the "Family Dog" episode of Steven Spielberg's NBC series, "Amazing Stories." The film was written and directed by Brad Bird (director of Disney Pixar's "The Incredibles" and "Ratatouille"), and was different from anything seen on TV at the time. It wasn't just the quirky character designs (by Tim Burton). This was not a Saturday Morning kid's cartoon.
I remember being slightly surprised when Skip Binford (voiced by multi-talented veteran voice actor Stan Freberg), the father character, complained about "that cheap damn dog food!" Gasp! It was rare to hear a cartoon character curse back then. Annie Potts (probably best known for her role as Mary Jo on the series "Designing Women") gives an outstanding performance as mother Bev (she would later voice Bo Peep in Disney Pixar's Toy Story and Toy Story 2---it's too bad she wasn't in Toy Story 3). Scott Menville (a prolific voice and screen actor, who was Wayne Arnold's friend Wart on "The Wonder Years" TV series) played Billy, the nasty little boy that terrorizes the poor Dog. Brooke Ashley is Buffy, the little girl that is somehow cute and a bit bizarre. I think my favorite part of the film is the "Home Movies" section, narrated by the family. The interplay between Bev and Buffy here is hilarious. The cast also includes Brad Bird, Mercedes McCambridge, Marshall Efron, Stanley Ralph Ross, and Jack Angel.
The animation was created by some well known animators, including Duncan Marjoribanks (he was the lead animator for Sebastian the crab in Disney's "The Little Mermaid" and Abu in "Aladdin"). I think I can spot some of his animation when the Dog is riding in the car with the robbers (the scene where the fat robber is upset with being called "The Dog Gang" and suggests they get a cat, which triggers an attack from the Dog).
I ripped this advertisement out of TV Guide magazine. On the back, it shows what was on TV the night "Family Dog" debuted in 1987.
Nickelodeon viewers could catch episodes of "You Can't Do That On Television" and "DangerMouse." HBO was still showing Jim Henson's "Fraggle Rock." In reruns were shows like "Bosom Buddies" (starring Tom Hanks) and "The Facts Of Life" (what was Tootie up to this week?) plus older favorites like "The Jeffersons," "The Honeymooners" and "Donna Reed." Newer programs included "Kate and Allie," "MacGyver" (what will he make out of a Dixie Cup and a rubber band to save the world this time?), "ALF," and "My Sister Sam" (many remember this Pam Dawber sitcom being in the news due to the tragic death of star Rebecca Schaeffer).
"Family Dog" proved to be very popular, and it was spun off into its own series from Universal, Amblin, Warner Brothers and Nelvana Animation in 1992. The show featured a new cast, and the magic of the original was missing. It did not last very long.
As I write this, you can find the original on YouTube:
I feel sorry for the poor Dog. Would you want to live with this family?
I wonder if the actors got to ad-lib anything. The dialogue sounds very natural.
Buffy's burping baby doll and Bev's reaction is one of my favorite parts of this show.
I wonder if it's just a coincidence that "Family Dog," Tim Burton's "Frankenweenie" and "Toy Story" all feature Bull Terriers as main characters. Maybe it's because there's something inherently funny about their appearance.