Most parents in search of visual aids to teach their children about dignity and destiny don’t think of animated feces. Indeed, adults usually prefer to keep poop out of the mix altogether. And yet, for 39 years, Korea’s children have been reading about a pitiful pile of dog dung. Doggy Poo is the tale of a newborn mound of mutt mush that questions its place in the cosmic pecking order. When it asks the other elements for answers, they are, for the most part, unkind. Ridiculed by arrogant clods of dirt and tormented by a mother hen and her chicks, Doggy Poo begins to cry. Who knew poo had it so hard?
Apparently, Asian author Jung Saeng Kwon did. Published in 1968 and made into a 34-minute short film in 2002 (now on DVD from Central Park Media), this allegory philosophizes: “Everyone has a purpose…” Just like the duckling’s ugliness or the tin soldier’s steadfastness, our hero’s “issues” are all tied up in self-doubt and unknown specialness. Just when it looks like Doggy Poo will forever be one pinched log languishing in the dirt roads of an idyllic farming village, along comes a dandelion with a small request. Could Doggy Poo give up its odiferous yet fertilizing life so that this weed might grow big and strong?
The film is surprisingly watchable. Exceptional artists use old-fashioned stop motion animation to produce realistically rendered animals and people. The talking turd, however, remains something of a hurdle. Either in its native tongue or dubbed English, this ca-ca is coarse and a little too kooky. Most of us like our fairytale heroes to be on the warm and fuzzy side, not gross and squishy.
Still, and strangely, Doggy Poo can be nearly effervescent, so much so that the tolerance “message” rather floats away into the ether. The clever representation of chatty doo-doo (his body and bald head deriving directly from his waste product torso) is more memorable. In part, this is because Doggy Poo lacks narrative drive. Doggy Poo faces no classic obstacles or dangers; it’s just a distraught dump in a tale that crosses Buddhism with pop psychology.
But if Doggy Poo doesn’t instantly take its place in the pantheon of traditional folklore, it’s not for a lack of trying. The bonus items on this DVD highlight all manner of “making of” materials. From the hundreds of hours put in by artists huddled over clay models, to the translation efforts necessary to disseminate the fable worldwide, Doggy Poo‘s odyssey from book to box office was apparently monumental. Artists struggled to find ways to update and universalize Kwon’s tranquil ‘60s ideology, even using his own modest background (though quite famous, he still lives a rural, reclusive life) as a foundation. Their testimonies suggest they regard Kwon and his story as near-religious figures.
Maybe this is why Doggy Poo‘s apparent point is lost. For all its attention to god and purpose, its scatological basis about shouts disrespect. While Doggy Poo doesn’t make its own jokes about puppy “presents” left along the roadside, you can just imagine the risqué riffing going on in homes throughout U.S. suburbia. Kids crave all things grotesque, from Garbage Pail Kids and booger-like bubblegum. For them, Doggy Poo‘s “forbidden” subject matter makes it all the more delirium-inducing.
Doggy Poo may be preaching more to the parents than its proposed audience. Maybe children will learn a lesson about respecting all creatures, but it’s hard to imagine they’ll be anything other than mystified or doubled over in belly laughter from this beautiful bowel movement (the English-speaking actors’ over-the-top voice work doesn’t help matters). While Doggy Poo is a sweet and wholesome meditation on individual identity and pride, its duality of design makes it a novelty. It’s unlikely that anyone is going to see the flowers for the feces.