One of my pet peeves around the Disney community is the long held belief that Walt Disney was a man of uncompromising principle who never cut corners, never did sequels and always did things that were completely original. It’s not only not true, it does a disservice to the man. Walt was a brilliant, creative man, but he also knew when he needed to push boundaries and when he needed to play it safe. Look at the package features or today’s short, Wonder Dog.
At first glance, a short about Pluto trying to impress Dinah the Daschund but falling into a fight with Butch the Bulldog is already unoriginal. We have seen this before from the Pluto series, and while entertaining it is nothing new. This short follows some similar paths that other Pluto shorts have while managing to put a different twist on things. This time, Pluto is attempting to woo Dinah by showing that he can do all the things that the circus dog, Prince the Wonder Dog does.
This leads to a bevy of scenes with Pluto using junkyard objects to try and imitate Prince the Wonder Dog. And since he’s performing circus tricks, you need circus music, right? So Disney turned to their most famous circus performer, Dumbo, and took the music completely from the circus scenes in the film. Yes, Pluto here performs to the music from Dumbo and the similarities are rather noticeable.
During the scenes where the music is playing, it honestly feels mismatched. Even though Pluto is doing circus style moves, the music oversells the moves and makes the gags feel less important. That’s really a shame because the animation on this short is quite funny. Pluto ends up impressing Dinah not because of the moves he is trying to make, but instead because of what Butch is doing to him, trying to shake him off a ladder or tossing him in the air.
Despite the reuse of the Dumbo music (as well as bit from the Flying Gauchito short), Wonder Dog turns out to be wildly entertaining. It’s probably the best Pluto short in years, really. But it’s another example of how the Disney company in Walt’s time was opportunistic, knew how to use things and reuse them, and pursued profits. And that is not a bad thing, it’s just the truth.