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100 Greatest Animated Shorts / The Family Dog / Brad Bird

100 Greatest Animated Shorts, Featured

USA / 1987

Yes I know TV series aren’t allowed. The thing is, although it was later developed as a TV series, the original film of ‘The Family Dog’ was technically a one off TV special, a standalone production made to be shown in the anthology series ‘Steven Spielberg’s Amazing Stories’. Listen, it’s my list and my rules, ok? Just thought I’d get that out of the way.

The story concerns a well meaning but hapless pet who is constantly in the dog house with the suburban family that own him, until after failing to stop a series of burglaries they take him to a scary Charles Addams style dog trainer to be converted into ‘a quivering snarling ball of canine terror’. Family Dog became a bit of a cult amongst kids and animators and was notable for featuring in its crew many future big names of animation. For most people at least, it was also the first real exposure to the talents of star director Brad Bird.

The production was of a very high quality for mid eighties TV animation, which at the time was in the doldrums of low budget kids Saturday morning toy selling junk. In fact ‘Family Dog’ is often credited as having a role in the 1990’s revival of quality animation that came through films such as the Spielberg produced ‘An American Tail’ (1986) and ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’ (1988), Disney’s ‘The Little Mermaid’ (1989) and in TV terms Ralph Bakshi’s ‘The New Adventures of Mighty Mouse’ (1987), Matt Groening’s ‘The Simpsons’ (1989) and John Krikfalusi’s “Ren and Stimpy’ (1991). The fact that of the seven productions named here three of them were Spielberg produced, demonstrates the role that he had in this great animation revival and boom time.

The illustrious crew of Family Dog featured Ralph Eggleston, future Pixar production designer and director of their short ‘For The Birds’ (2000), Chris Buck, future director of Disney’s ‘Tarzan’ (1999) and ‘Frozen’ (2013) and Rob Minkoff, future director of Disney’s ‘The Lion King’ and the live action/CG animation ‘Stuart Little’ (1999). Tim Burton provided character design and the theme was provided Danny Elfman, famous for his collaborations with Burton and other animation music such as the theme for ‘The Simpsons’.

Family Dog was built round a funny script, great character animation and angular retro design, a future hallmark of Birds work. The nicely stylised long suffering suburban parents and their often-obnoxious kids in some ways seem to anticipate the suburban family in Bird’s ‘The Incredibles’ (2004). The animation of the dog and these other characters is often pushed to cartoon extremes but like all good acting it also shows enough subtlety to draw you in and believe there’s a real thought process going on inside their heads.

Spielberg also produced the follow on TV series, this time in conjunction with Burton. However with cheaper production values, animation outsourced to China and no involvement from Bird or most of the other future big names, the quality dropped and the series was a pale imitation of the original.

Note: The 100 greatest animated shorts is an list of opinions and not an order of value from best to worst. All suggestions, comments and outrage are welcome but please don’t shoot us, it’s only a list!

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