His biggest adventures are in his own backyard: Thoughts on Dug Days

(image courtesy IMP Awards)

There is a great deal to love about Pixar’s 2009 masterpiece Up, which still stands 12 years later as a stellar of example of how big hearted, narratively rich and character-driven animation can be.

Chief among its many delights is the character of Dug, voiced by Bob Peterson, a sweetly enthusiastic and goofy Golden Retriever who was among the pack of talking dogs – thanks to an electronic collar that translates their thoughts into speech patterns – that the villain of the movie, renowned explorer gone bad, Charles F. Muntz (Christoper Plummer) used to enforce his will.

While the rest of the pack were mean and nasty, not just to those Muntz opposed but to members of their own pack, Dug was a kindhearted delight, a dog who realised within seconds of meeting Up’s protagonists, Carl (Ed Asner) and Russell (Jordan Nagai), that he loved them (“My name is Dug. I have just met you, and I love you.”)

It was a found family of the most unorthodox kind but it worked and so, when Carl returned to civilisation from his unexpectedly energetic adventure to Paradise Falls in South America, it made sense that Dug would come to live with him.

As Dug Days, created and directed by Bob Peterson and comprised of a first season of five episodes opens, Dug is at his adorable best, chasing squirrels (he still wants them all dead, something he thinks is hilarious, and spends a great deal of time chasing one grey squirrel in particular), running from fireworks and digging up flowers as he searches for a smell that he has never smelt before.

He is at his garrulously innocent best and while he often creates more chaos than he doesn’t, it’s hard not to love him because he wears his heart very much on his sleeve.

He is also very much a dog, and Dug Days gives dog lovers everywhere, and to be fair anyone who just loves a goodhearted protagonist who wants only the best for everyone about everything, plenty of opportunities to glory in the wonderfulness that is time well spent with humanity’s best friend.

If you have ever had a dog or love dogs or both, there is much about Dug Days, told in sub-10 minute bite-size shorts of gloriously colourful, emotional resonant animation, that will appeal.

Dug is, for instance, very much a good boy who wants to do the right thing but doesn’t quite always manage to rein his very impulsive urges; take the first episode, “Squirrel”, in which Carl asks Dug to guard a newly-constructed bird feeder station while he takes a nap.

Dug is, of course, hilariously and adorably eager to please and sets about executing on his mission with typically over-the-top zeal but things soon go awry when a squirrel appears and Dug finds himself defending the yard from his new nemesis.

Plants go flying. the bird feeder topples, the firewood pile goes skittering across the yard and Dug, despite his best efforts, doesn’t end up really delivering on his commitment to his best buddy aka Poppa, carl.

But gosh does he mean well and it’s near impossible to watch the episode, or any of these five storytelling gems really, without wishing Dug was your dog, your good boy, who wants nothing more than to be with you and spend time keeping you company.

Almost every episode ends with Carl affirming to Dug that he is really is the best dog ever, something that Dug demonstrates over and over again whether he’s minding puppies (and dealing with some personal issues along the way) or saving the neighbourhood from a threat that none of the humans know about or getting to know his neighbours, the squirrel and the bird better thanks to some ingenious work by Russell.

Quite apart from a beautifully executed love letter to dogs, Dug Days is a joy because it is so bighearted.

That would be hard not to do in one sense since Dug is a character who’s heart is very much on his metaphorical sleeve, but Dug Days absolutely nails the emotionally resonant of Dug and the film Up, delivering up five nuggets of escapist feel good loveliness that will make you feel much better about the world.

We need that more than ever right now with the pandemic, the threat of climate change and geopolitics nasties like the ascension of the Taliban to government in Afghanistan, leaving more than a few of us feeling substantially, existentially battered and bruised.

Dug Days, in all its unbridled, exuberant glory, is the perfect antidote, a reminder, if you need it and many of us do, that life can wonderful, inclusive, rich and full of love, friendship and belonging and that even when things go wrong, and you maybe eat a hotdog or two that you shouldn’t, you are still loved, valued and have a place to call home.

  • The only sad note in all this is that Ed Asner, who gave gruff but kindly voice to Carl, died recently. he will be greatly missed, especially if there is a second series of Dug Days commissioned.

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