BOOTLEG FILES 434: “The Dogfather” (1974-76 theatrical animated series).
LAST SEEN: At least two cartoons are on YouTube.
AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: None.
REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: Out of circulation for many years.
CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: Oh, Lord, I hope not!
During the 1960s, the theatrical market for animated short films evaporated. The influential animation units at MGM and Warner Bros. made a game effort to keep their output flowing, but significantly decreased budgets resulted in painfully inferior productions – in the case of both studios, the closure of their animation units was a cinematic mercy killing. Even Disney cut back on its short film output, placing its focus on feature-length endeavors and the studio’s popular television offerings.
By the early 1970s, the only company still turning out original animated short films for theatrical release was the independent DePatie-Freleng Enterprises. Founded in 1963 by former Warner Bros. animation artists David H. DePatie and Friz Freleng, the company hit gold in 1964 with “The Pink Phink,” an animated short that introduced the Pink Panther cartoon series. “The Pink Phink” was released by United Artists and won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film. DePatie-Freleng was encouraged by this success to create more Pink Panther cartoons while expanding into a gallery of new animated characters. During the mid-to-late 1960s, DePatie-Freleng turned out the theatrical cartoon series featuring The Inspector, Roland and Rattfink, and The Ant and The Aardvark.
As the 1970s approached, the creativity level at DePatie-Freleng showed signs of fraying. Cartoon series featuring such characters as the Tijuana Toads, The Blue Racer and Hoot Kloot made no impact on audiences – unimaginative storylines, cheapjack animation and a sense of staleness permeated these efforts. Audiences barely tolerated these cartoons and United Artists made no effort to give them a wide distribution. (As a personal aside – I was a kid in the early 1970s and went to the movies frequently, and I have no memory of viewing a DePatie-Freleng cartoon on the big screen during those years.)
By 1974, DePatie-Freleng tried to revive its sense of relevance with a new series called “The Dogfather.” The inspiration for this endeavor was the 1972 film blockbuster based on Mario Puzo’s novel “The Godfather.” However, turning an R-rated gangster film into a G-rated cartoon parody with an all-canine cast proved to be far beyond DePatie-Freleng’s talents.
“The Dogfather” is set in the 1920s, rather than the 1940s of the Puzo novel. This enabled the animators to dress the characters in the flashy outfits of the Roaring Twenties and to fasten a jazzy theme song that opens with the line “I’m gonna make you an offer you can’t refuse” and then involves Corleone-inspired threats such as “give me half your action or you’ll wind up in traction.”
However, the one common link between “The Godfather” and “The Dogfather” was an elderly, raspy-voiced patriarch of a crime family. In the case of the latter, Bob Holt voiced the Dogfather in a so-so imitation of Marlon Brando’s Don Corleone. But instead of Michael, Sonny, Fredo and the cannoli-loving fun bunch, the Dogfather is assisted by the dimwitted thugs Louie and Pugg (voiced by Daws Butler). This duo actually carries most of the heavy lifting in the series, with the Dogfather assigning them to carry out heists that inevitably backfire in slapstick chaos.
Some of the typical misadventures of “The Dogfather” series include Louie and Pugg getting jailed when they are sent to help a convict escape (“A Big House Ain’t a Home”) and the miscreant pair trying to capture a speedy racehorse that balks at being saddled (“From Nags to Riches”). Some sharp-eyed Internet animation fans have noted the similarity of some of “The Dogfather” plots to classic Warner Bros. cartoons where Friz Freleng played a creative role – most notably “The Goose That Laid a Golden Egg,” which some people believe has more than a passing resemblance to the Daffy Duck cartoon “Golden Yeggs.” There is also the Net-borne opinion that Louie and Pugg are little more than canine retreads of the Rocky and Mugsy gangster characters from the Warner Bros. cartoons, but I dispute that because both of the DePatie-Freleng characters are both idiots, whereas Rocky has some semblance of brainpower.
DePatie-Freleng produced 17 episodes in “The Dogfather” series between 1974 and 1976. To date, I’ve only been able to locate two of these cartoons online: “Bows and Errors” (1974) and “Medicur” (1976). If these two cartoons are any indication, “The Dogfather” was a real dog.
“Bows and Errors” finds the Dogfather enjoying an unusual inspiration from the legend of Robin Hood. He explains to Louie and Pugg that they should follow Robin Hood’s example of robbing from the rich and giving to the poor. When Pugg is confused on who receives the stolen loot, the Dogfather impatiently declares, “The poor is us, stupid.”
Louie and Pugg dress up like the Merry Men and use bows and arrows to steal the bags of cash from an armored truck. However, the Dogfather’s foe Al E. Cat steals the cash from Louie and Pugg. The dogs trace Al E. Cat to his apartment hideout, but their repeated attempts to penetrate the felonious feline’s top-floor lair ends with the dumb dogs falling headfirst from the building into the street.
“Medicur” is the only episode without Louie and Pugg. In this go-round, the Dogfather reads in the newspaper that his enemy Rocky McSnarl has escaped from prison. The Dogfather decides to hide as a patient in St. Bernard’s Hospital, but a stool pigeon – literally, a bird wearing a straw hat and bowtie – informs Rocky where he can find his enemy. Rocky puts on drag and pretends to be a nurse, where he enters the Dogfather’s hospital room and assaults him under the pretext of medical care (e.g., Rocky adjusts the Dogfather’s bed to a level where the patient slides out the window and into the street). But the wily Dogfather catches on to the ruse and Rocky winds up trapped in a straightjacket as hospital orderlies take him to psychiatric ward.
In both “Bows and Errors” and “Medicur,” there is almost no fun to enjoy. The animation is crummy, the characters have no dimension and the screenplays are weighed down in verbosity. Occasionally, silly malapropisms are thrown in – the strategic Dogfather comments “under the circumferences” instead of “under the circumstances,” a leap-ready Pugg yells “Geranium!” instead of “Geronimo!” – but that’s about it when it comes to getting a laugh. It is hard to imagine that these awful cartoons were created a mere decade after the Oscar victory for “The Pink Phink.”
When “The Dogfather” ended its run in 1976, DePatie-Freleng ceased producing theatrical shorts and focused entirely on television animation until 1981, when DePatie and Freleng sold their company to Marvel Comics. The characters in “The Dogfather” were mostly forgotten until they were briefly revived in 1993 for a new TV cartoon series featuring the Pink Panther, with Joe Piscopo voicing the Dogfather.
I cannot find any evidence that these cartoons were included in the U.S. syndicated television repackaging of the DePatie-Freleng shorts, but they were apparently sold overseas – YouTube postings can be traced to Brazilian and Saudi Arabian sources.
“The Dogfather” represents a dismal blip in the otherwise notable DePatie-Freleng canon. The 17 episodes in “The Dogfather” were never released in any home entertainment format; I am aware of at least one collector-to-collector source that is offering the series in an unauthorized DVD anthology. But in view of the series’ unsatisfactory contents, I would advise you to steer clear of this one – anyone selling bootleg DVDs of this endeavor would be making you an offer that you can refuse!
IMPORTANT NOTICE: The unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material, either for crass commercial purposes or profit-free s***s and giggles, is not something that the entertainment industry appreciates. On occasion, law enforcement personnel boost their arrest quotas by collaring cheery cinephiles engaged in such activities. So if you are going to copy and distribute bootleg material, a word to the wise: don’t get caught. Oddly, the purchase and ownership of bootleg DVDs is perfectly legal. Go figure!