I was recently gifted a scene from this movie in a clip exchange, and it was an interesting choice. Because, yes, it’s a Disney movie, but honestly it’s a Disney movie I’ve never liked very much. That isn’t just my dislike of dogs, though it’s true that I don’t particularly like dogs. It’s that this movie is heavy in the genre of “characters who never should have gotten married,” and parts of it are deeply uncomfortable to me with how normalized they make certain aspects of this couple’s relationship. We mostly only see it in relationship to the dogs, but I can’t help assuming it ties into the rest of their lives, too.
Fran Garrison (Suzanne Pleshette) has a dachshund named Danke. It is very much her dog. One morning, Danke is giving birth, and Fran makes her husband Mark (Dean Jones) drive them to the vet’s. Danke gives birth to three puppies—Fran names them Wilhelmina, Heidi, and Chloe. Meanwhile, the vet’s Great Dane, Duchess, has given birth as well. She isn’t producing enough milk for the whole litter, and Dr. Pruitt (Charles Ruggles) persuades Mark to let Danke nurse the puppy. Once Fran—who won’t let Mark explain—figures out he’s a Great Dane, she insists that the dog go back. She then very generously gives him back for Mark’s birthday.
Fran insists that her puppies are completely blameless the entire time. Now, we the audience see the dachshund puppies start the mischief the second Fran’s back is turned. Brutus joins in because he was raised with dachshunds and believes himself to be their size and such. He is also, frankly, not smart enough to run from the scene the way the girls are and is still in the middle of the mess when Fran and Mark discover it. But when the puppies destroy Fran’s knitting, her whole reason for claiming the dachshunds to be innocent is “look at them, they’re little angels.” She thinks they look innocent because she likes them.
Look, the fact is, I simply don’t like Fran. Mark is processing the destruction of his studio and a month’s work, and Fran won’t let it go. She keeps talking about the expenses, and then she gets mad when he tells her to shut up. But I think he’s justified; he’s absolutely in his right. She thinks nothing but pleasant, happy thoughts about Sergeant Carmody (Kelly Thordsen), the officer who escorted them to the vet’s and then, when discovering it was a dog giving birth, wrote Mark a $110 ticket. (That’s $879 today.) She seems to be supported by Mark’s work, but she never suggests that she owes him so much as a favour even though it was her responsibility for insisting that the puppies couldn’t be born at home.
Fran is a grasping social climber who cares more about her dogs’ chances as show dogs than her husband’s life with her. They have a garden party (with bonus racism), and she treats him pretty much the same way she treats the hired help—she’s literally got him setting out chairs and things instead of actually interacting with guests. That is, until he wants to go see what’s bothering his dog; what’s bothering him is that Chloe was stolen his bone. What follows is an extremely embarrassing scene featuring a deserves-so-much-better Mako that gets blamed exclusively on Mark and Brutus despite everyone else’s culpability.
Now, look, I don’t deny that Brutus needs obedience training, goodness knows. He’s a big, poorly behaved dog, and that’s a bad combination. But even I know that the way to make a dog stop acting up is not to scream and run from it. It’s definitely true that the conversation shouldn’t just be “that dog goes now.” The garbage man (Dick Wessel in his final film role; he ended up being voiced over by Paul Frees upon Wessel’s death) gets along with him just fine and is aware that certain actions on the part of Brutus probably mean there’s something wrong with the dog—he gets along with him just fine for the most part.
I believe it was Ladies Home Journal that had a feature called Can This Marriage Be Saved? I can’t help wondering how these two would do being looked at by serious marriage counselors. Sure, there’s the obligatory Disney Happy Ending, and given how much of the movie involves referring to the main characters as the dogs’ parents, I’m sure you can all guess exactly what that entails. I’m left horrified by the idea of growing up in that household, with that woman as a mother. She reminds me of the ex-girlfriend of someone I know. I blocked said ex-girlfriend on Facebook recently.