Judge Bryan Byun considers Doggy Poo the #2 children's DVD of the year.
For everything there is a reason for being.
Ask the average person what comes to mind when they envision a show about a talking poop, and—while backing slowly away from you toward the nearest exit—they'll more than likely reply, "Why, Mr. Hankey, the Christmas Poo from South Park, of course!" The fact it's so hard to think of an anthropomorphic doody aside from Mr. Hankey underscores the lamentable dearth these days of fecal matter-based family entertainment.
Fortunately for scatologically deprived parents everywhere, Central Park Media and Korean animation studio Itasca have stepped up to fill the void, with the DVD release of 2003's short feature Doggy Poo. And while there's no getting around the odorous nature of its main character, Doggy Poo is as far from the juvenile shock comedy of South Park as a story about a talking poopy can get.
Facts of the Case
Although it sounds like something dreamed up by an Aqua Teen Hunger Force writer in the midst of housetraining a puppy, Doggy Poo is actually adapted from an acclaimed 1968 children's book by Korean author Jung-Saeng Kwon. Presented in the style of a folktale, Doggy Poo tells the story of a little poop left by the side of a rural village road. Doggy Poo wakes up to find himself all alone in a bewildering, hostile world, without a clue as to his reason for being or his purpose in life. All he knows is that he is a doggy poo, which is, as he is helpfully informed by a garrulous lump of mud, "the worst kind there is!"
Poor Doggy Poo. Not only must he live with the shame of being a mere doo-doo surrounded by the wonders of nature, but everyone he encounters, from the mud lump to a snooty hen, has a crucial role to play in the natural order, while Doggy Poo is so useless that birds won't even deign to eat him. Unable to move from the side of the road, all Doggy Poo can do is watch the world go by and ponder the emptiness of his existence. At night, he gazes up at the night sky and marvels at the stars, dreaming of someday becoming beautiful like them. A fallen leaf drifts briefly into his life, and tells Doggy Poo of the inevitability and capricious nature of death. As the seasons pass, Doggy Poo despairs of finding any way of being useful to the world before he dies, but when a dandelion sprout emerges beside him, his dream may indeed come true.
It's a shame, in a way, that Doggy Poo has a pile of feces as its protagonist, because more than a few potential viewers will undoubtedly shy away from this story on that basis alone. On the other hand, those who seek out Doggy Poo expecting kitschy laughs may be surprised by what turns out to be a compassionate, heartfelt exploration of basic spiritual questions. Once you get over the weirdness of the premise, it takes a hard heart to remain unmoved by this simple yet deeply emotional tale. In classic fairy tale tradition (Kwon's Doggy Poo has much in common with Hans Christian Andersen's Ugly Duckling), Doggy Poo's lowly hero makes the best of his meager lot in life, and when he finds the answers he's looking for, it's a breathtaking, transcendent moment.
Created with a mix of traditional stop-motion animation and state-of-the-art digital photography and effects, Doggy Poo is an exquisitely crafted little gem of a story, offering gorgeous, highly-detailed visuals and a warm, bittersweet score by pianist-composer YIRUMA. Rather than telling an action-packed adventure tale—one shudders to imagine what Nickelodeon would do with this material—Doggy Poo unfurls quietly and thoughtfully, pausing now and then for meditative shots of the natural world in which Doggy Poo so desperately wishes to play a role. The sedate pacing may strain some viewers' patience, but Doggy Poo clocks in at a kid-friendly half hour, and spins its rustic fable succinctly but unhurriedly.
Central Park Media's release of Doggy Poo is surprisingly robust for such a brief, modestly scaled feature. Shot and recorded digitally, the transfer is clear, nearly free of defects (other than some minor aliasing), and offers an extremely rich and colorful image. (This being stop-motion animation, however, the image does occasionally betray a barely noticeable flickering.) Audio is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, which is surprising since the making-of featurette indicates that it was recorded in full 5.1 Surround, but the sound is clean and lively, marred only by a score that is mixed a bit too high.
Doggy Poo is presented in both English and in Korean with English subtitles. Rather than presenting the English and Korean in separate audio tracks, however, the disc offers two separate versions of the feature, which makes switching between the two a cumbersome process. Avoid the English version if at all possible; while the acting is competent, the voices are annoyingly shrill and inappropriately comical, tending to drown out the emotion. The Korean version, while marked by some of that "reading-to-toddlers" tone one often hears in kiddie features, is far superior in conveying the essence of the characters and story. (If you're watching Doggy Poo strictly for laughs, though, the English version does deliver the kitschy goods.)
Bonus features are plentiful, leading off with a making-of featurette that covers all aspects of production from storyboarding to scoring. In addition to providing a glimpse into the creation of Doggy Poo, the featurette is a fascinating overview of the modern stop-motion animation process, and conveys a sense of the astounding challenge of an art form in which a few seconds of footage can take days to produce (and can be ruined by something as minor as a burned-out light bulb). One is left with a strong appreciation for the unique gift that allows stop-motion animators to perform such slow, painstaking work without going crazy.
Other features include an alternate angle version of the program that displays storyboards and director's notes for the entire film, an early Doggy Poo pilot that won the Viewer's Choice Award at the 2003 Big Apple Anime Fest, the American trailer for Doggy Poo, three photo/artwork galleries, and a too-brief text biography of author Kwon. It's hard to quibble with a set of extras this solid, but the absence of any discussion of or images from Kwon's original text is a disappointing omission in an otherwise satisfying DVD.
Doggy Poo is a brooding existential meditation on one's purpose in an inimical, uncaring universe…whose hero happens to be a steaming pile of dog excrement. Given this premise, it's not difficult to imagine puzzled parents skipping over this odd little title in favor of the latest Spongebob Squarepants DVD. Those who do give Doggy Poo a try, though, may be surprised to discover a lyrical, visually appealing, family-friendly story with a simple but profound spiritual theme. Like poop on the sole of your shoe, Doggy Poo stays with you for a long time.
Given that it's the owner's responsibility to clean up after their dog, the court finds Doggy Poo not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Central Park Media
• The Making of Doggy Poo
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