Saturday, November 6, 2010

The triteness of injured dogs

I'm not here to cast aspersions on Todd Phillips' Due Date, which is likely to be somewhere between pretty funny and very funny.

However, I have seen that dog somewhere before.

In fact, injured dogs are one of the most tired props you can find in a comedy. Particularly, injured dogs with that "cone" around their neck, as seen here. That "cone" -- otherwise known as an "Elizabethan collar" or "space collar" -- is of course designed to prevent the dog from licking some injury in the lower half of its body, which could pull out the stitches. It strikes all of us as absurd, which is why it's been such a good visual gag for comedy writers over the years.

But when I saw the poster for Due Date, it was that exact moment when I had seen this joke one too many times. We all have those moments, like the exact moment we stopped thinking it was funny when characters get accidentally dosed with ecstasy, or when characters standing by the side of the road in the rain get splashed after a car drives through a puddle. Every recurring joke has its expiration date, and for the dogs with cones around their necks, that moment has arrived.

I guess I find it all the more disappointing, as an admittedly minor warning sign about the quality of Due Date, because it seemed like Due Date should have a lot of potential for intelligence and originality. It seems funny to ascribe those two traits to The Hangover, the previous collaboration between Todd Phillips and star Zach Galifianakis, but it's true -- the originality and (yes) intelligence of that film is what made it seem so fresh. This dog with the space collar makes me worried that Due Date won't offer more of the same. Shouldn't Due Date be better than that? (Never mind the musty joke about the ashes of a cremated corpse being misused -- they were used as a litter box in Meet the Parents over a decade ago, and now they're being used as coffee grounds.)

My normal routine in a situation like this would be to list all the other instances I could think of of dogs with Elizabethan collars in the movies, like an attorney lists evidence against a man on trial for murder. But my usual talent for recall has failed me in that regard. In fact, the only other injured dog I could think of in a movie was the most recent time I'd seen it used, and it wasn't even involving the space collar. It was in the dreadful (and I mean dreadful) Jennifer Lopez vehicle The Back-up Plan, in which J-Lo's character is a pet store owner who owns a dog whose hind legs don't work, so the dog carries around his hind quarters in a little cart with wheels. This instance reminded me that not only are injured dogs trite, but they also can be sickeningly precious.

Two movies are not enough to argue a trend. However, I still wanted to write this piece. So I decided I'd go on Facebook for help, and see what my friends could remind me of. I actually got a lot of responses, many of them genuine, some of them sarcastic, all of them useful in some way or another, because I'm about to list them like the evidence that I need to make my case. (And, some of them are just plain funny.)

So the rest of this piece will be basically a copy of that thread, with my comments inserted in between in italics. (My comments to you, not comments I actually made on Facebook). Hey, why not switch it up a bit for a Friday?

Here was my status update:

"Need help here ... can you think of movies that feature dogs who get comically injured? I'm not talking about killed, like in A Fish Called Wanda, but injured so they have to wear one of those cones around their necks, or something similar."

And the responses:

"One Crazy Summer. The dog has to wear a cone and they tease him calling him 'dog from Mars.'"

Nice one. See, I wouldn't have thought of that.

"The dog in Up wears 'the cone of shame.'"

Great ... I knew I'd seen it somewhere recently.

"Something about Mary."

That's not a full title, but I'll take it.

So, in the movie Amelie, there's a painting of a dog with a cone hanging over her bed:

Are you writing about Due Date?

Also, can you tell I enjoy a research challenge?"

Busted. For the record, this woman is a librarian, so yeah, she likes research. She's also the person who submitted the first comment.

"Something about Mary - dog ends up in full body cast, only tongue sticking out."

Yep, got that one. What is it about people not remembering the word "There's" in that title?

"I can't remember if the dog Scraps in Airplane II ended up injured or not. I know he fell out of the spaceship or something! I remember a dramatic, slow-motion fall....?"

I don't remember either, but it's a good contribution.

"National Lampoon's Vacation- more than 'injured.'"

Unfortunately, it's been so long since I've seen that movie that I'm not getting the reference, but it's clarified a couple comments from now.

"How about One Crazy Summer and poor Boscoe... I love in the end when all the puppies have the little cones on too."

Yep, got that one, but hadn't remembered the puppies with the cones. That's perfect for my current thesis.

"Motorcycle Cop to Clark Grizzwald: 'But it is a shame. I had a pooch like this when I was a kid. Poor little guy. Probably kept up with you for a mile or so. Tough little mutt...'"

Okay, so it seems that the dog in National Lampoon's Vacation was either dragged by the car, or followed it dutifully until it died. Sounds like there was no need for an Elizabethan collar.

"The dog in A Fish Called Wanda."

Zing. See my previous comment about sarcastic responses.

"In Snatch after the dog goes to the vet to have the squeaky toy removed?"

Good one!

"The poor bulldog in Van Wilder..."

Did not see National Lampoon's Van Wilder. Or National Lampoon's Van Wilder: The Rise of Taj, for that matter.

"Finding Forrester when Connery says 'You're the man now dog!'"

Double zing. Same guy.

John Candy in Spaceballs? He was a mog, half man, half dog. His own best friend. He got injured when they stepped on his tail. His name was Barf."

Zing part three. Same guy again.

"Baxter gets drop-kicked by Jack Black in Anchorman. No cone, but it's comical nonetheless."

True enough.

So it's clear that we're expected to find it funny when dogs get hurt in the movies. Hurt, but not killed. (Although, the systematic destruction of the old lady's three dogs by animal lover Ken in A Fish Called Wanda is pretty hilarious.)

And it's not the same for other pets. You don't see all kinds of cats getting injured in the movies. (It's a little safer to actually kill off a cat, because they have a reputation for being aloof rather than loveable.) You don't see the pet parakeet getting injured in many comedies. (You can pretty safely kill them off too.) The pet gerbil doesn't injure very well, either.

And so I have to blame the inherent comic value of the Elizabethan collar for why comedy writers think it's so funny to injure a dog in the line of the duty of making us laugh.

But it may be about time to retire this one. You could say that the joke has reached its due date.


Castor said...

Having seen Due Date, I can tell you that the intelligence and originality you may be looking for isn't there. It is composed mostly of crude jokes and disappointing "acts" such as spitting on said dog, punching a little kid in the stomach or insulting a veteran in a wheelchair.

Vancetastic said...


I'm sorry, but not surprised, to hear that's the case. This hasn't been a great year for comedy, and the trend continues ...

Thanks for checking in!