Voices: Martin Mull, Molly Cheek, Zak Huxtable, Cassie Cole, Danny Mann.
Now everyone will know why CBS kept this mutt tied up for well over a year. Mean-spirited but not funny — a deadly combination if there ever was one — this long-in-the-doghouse follow-up to an “Amazing Stories” segment will get what figures to be a brief walk around the prime time block as CBS seeks to cut its losses by burning off the episodes.
“Family Dog” would come and go quietly as another poor homage to “The Simpsons’ ” success (along with animated casualties like “Fish Police” and “Capitol Critters”) if it weren’t for its creative auspices, which include exec producers Tim Burton (who, as a young animator, directed the initial “Amazing Stories” seg), Steven Spielberg and Dennis Klein.
As is, the opening installments of this dog’s-eye-view of the world display some visual flair and OK animation (Nelvana was brought in to rescue the project after Burton and Spielberg nixed initial renderings) but prove decidedly weak on the story level and uninspired in terms of comedy.
The first segment, for example, hinges almost entirely on the self-absorbed family ignoring the fact that their dog is scorchingly thirsty, repeatedly and unwittingly denying him as he seeks in vain to get a drink of water.
As if that weren’t cruel enough, the action then shifts, almost as an afterthought, to a dog show, where the parched canine inadvertently wreaks havoc.
Episode two is only a little better, as the unnamed beast (referred to only as “good dog,””bad dog” or “stupid dog”) follows the family to the zoo. What would have been a decent gag for a six-minute Warner Bros. cartoon, however, feels stretched well beyond its comic bounds in the half-hour format.
Seen through the dog’s eyes, the family members are virtually impenetrable and at best annoying. They include a querulous mom and dad (voiced by Martin Mull and Molly Cheek) as well as a slightly sadistic boy and his tot of a sister. Only the last of those exhibits much comic potential, with her addled ramblings and occasional fascination with the pup.
In fact, even the slapstick elements, so artfully exploited in Amblin’s “Roger Rabbit” shorts, lack ingenuity here. Only the giddy score by Danny Elfman gives a hint of the tone the producers were no doubt after.
For all their feature accomplishments, Burton and Spielberg may be inspired to keep this dog off future resumes, or to take a page from Stephen King’s “Pet Sematary” and bury it deep in the old TV show graveyard.