It’s 1986. The Disney company had decided to take a gamble and start making animated TV shows. Sure, they’d been using television since 1950, and making their own weekly entertainment since 1955, but animation made exclusively for television? Hannah-Barbera had that market cornered. Fortunately, Disney had a decent head start a year prior when they kicked off their first animated shows, The Wuzzles, which ran one season, and The Adventures of the Gummi Bears, which would go on for four seasons. Their third outing was Fluppy Dogs.
Now I’ve said before that DuckTales is Disney’s miraculous third-ever show, but there’s an asterisk in there. See, There’s a reason you probably never heard of this one. It aired on ABC as an hour-long pilot on Thanksgiving Day in 1986…and it stopped there. The Nielsen ratings were reportedly so low, Disney opted to not pick up the series. Was it the right call?
Please present your perfectly precious Pound Puppy parodies in this positively peculiar production!
The plot: Five extra-dimensional, bipedal, sentient dog-like creatures called fluppies – Stanley, Ozzie, Tippi, Bink, and Dink – are hopping universe to universe in a desperate attempt to get back home. They stumble into our world and are mistaken for run-the-mill dogs, and a young boy named Jamie adopts the leader, Stanley. However, Jamie soon learns their secret and vows to help them all get back. But the town millionaire, Mr. Wagstaff, is determined to capture these once-thought mythical creatures for his big game collection.
How’s the writing?: When you compare it to anything from the era, like Gummi Bears or DuckTales, it’s stands…pretty level. There are no side-splitting jokes, but neither are there bad ones. It’s a simple plot (sorta), but it’s not a bad one. It has no riveting hook, but it’s not godawful, either. It’s just kind of average, but on a even keel with the likes of its contemporaries.
Its weakest aspect is the fact it’s so clearly toyetic and marketable. Kids may have wanted cuddly toys of Eleroo or Tummi Gummi, but the fluppies themselves are pretty flat. They’re basically pastel-colored sheepdogs. There’s nothing truly interesting about them. If you scratch their heads, you can make things fly, but the fluppies lack true personalities like the other shows did. And because they seem so interchangeable, I have trouble getting invested.
Also, a big problem in this pilot is a lot happens. There’s constantly things going on, and it gets pretty overwhelming. There’s hardly any real moments that let the characters breathe and emote, in ways that might have streamlined the story. The opening is already a handful. When you first see them, they’re straddling a sheer vertical cliff in what looks like Mordor with nary an explanation! Some re-writes might have benefitted this pilot.
Does it give the feels?: The main reason they want you to care is because they are giant-eyed, Easter-colored, small doggies whose names are a portmanteau of “floppy” and “puppy”. That and they’re not that far removed from another eighties’ staple, the Care Bears.
Jamie and Claire are the wide-eyed innocents who bond with the creatures. But because the fluppies are so boring, you aren’t crying when they say goodbye, much less if you see right through the “kid hides a pet” trope so common in kid’s shows back then.
Even the villain feels weak. He just feels like a cross between Cruella DeVil and Duke Igthorn as he constantly shakes a fist, bellowing over and over “Get those fluppies!”. Why should I be afraid of a scheming guy in a mustache and suit?
Who makes it worth it?: the fluppies are boring. The kids are boring. Wagstaff is the only source of any true potential as a wealthy big game hunter, but it’s not played up very well. If he were more interesting, like Van Pelt from Jumanji, that might have been funny. But instead, he’s just a suit with a waving fist.
Best quality provided: Well, like I said, it isn’t bad. There’s nothing truly bad about it. The animation’s top notch (It was produced by Fred Wolf, who produced the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series.). The animation is expressive and creative. The backgrounds are well-done. Some of the concepts are interesting, if not fully fleshed out. None of it truly stands out, but that’s still a far cry from being bad.
What could have been improved: Easily the film’s biggest issue is the editing. The way the pilot is shot and spliced, characters’ lines almost get clipped off when they segue from one scene to another. Each shot in this 45-minute show rarely lasts more than a few seconds. It’s kind of jarring.
A big part of this headache comes from the way the story’s laid out. Before the first five minutes are up, we are asked to accept these creatures creeping around a lava-encroached wasteland as one sniffs out an invisible door, which they take their glowing key, poke it into thin air, and a hobbit hole-like door materializes just off the cliff’s edge, and it leads them to a Mesozoic-like planet. That’s a lot to take in already, but it’s much later when Stanley tells Jamie the reason they left home in the first place was because of “adventure!” Remember, by the time the film opens, they’re already scared and want to go home. It’s clumsy storytelling, and clutters what’s already a very action-packed story.
Another issue is their ability to make things fly. Stanley gets his head scratched, and makes Jamie’s bed soar out the window, Little Nemo-style. Stanley is just as confused as Jamie, but it’s shrugged off as something that just happens when they traverse dimensions. It’s such a weak excuse when these guys could have any ability to make them cool: superior technology, a book of spells, telekinesis, animal communication (Oh yeah, they can’t talk with our dogs. Go figure.)…anything. But for creatures who clearly are not dogs, the script seems to keep thinking they’re just dogs with hands.
At least Stitch had some cool alien powers while he was pretending to be a dog.
Verdict: I think I may have either turned down this pilot if I were in charge back then, or at the very least, I would have asked the writers to come up with something more imaginative. It’s a show and a concept that has merit: that’s undeniable. But it fell short of being interesting by a sad enough margin. I have to give this pilot four glowing keys out of ten.
Think these guys might have a cameo in the new DuckTales?