Dog City originally aired as part of episode 104 of The Jim Henson Hour on May 5, 1989 and was later shown on the Odyssey Channel as a stand-alone special without the MuppeTelevision framing segments. It was in this form that it was released on DVD as Dog City: The Movie, in the UK in 2005 and in the US in 2010.
The story, inspired by a series of paintings by C. M. Coolidge, and adapted to the film noir genre, follows the exploits of a cast of Muppet dogs featuring Rowlf as the only character to break the fourth wall to speak to the audience directly. It is set in the 1930s...that's 13,510 in dog years.
Ace Yu, the protagonist in the film, arrives at "The Dog House", a restaurant in Dog City, to inquire about the death of his Uncle Harry, from whom Ace has inherited the restaurant. He is told by the bartender, Bubba, that Harry was killed by local gangster named Bugsy Them, who rules the city. When Them finds out that Ace now owns the Dog House, he brings his gang, Scruffy, Laughing Boy, Mad Dog and Miss Belle to the Dog House and attempts to convince Ace to give the restaurant's money to him. When Ace insults Bugsy's tail, Them vows that he'll get back at Ace. Sharing with Bubba and the rest of the customers why he refuses to fight back and his past as a German ex-Shepherd, they all run home in fear, leaving Ace alone.
In the evening, Ace is awakened by a noise in the alley. On investigating, he finds Colleen Barker searching the trash cans for food. He offers to let Colleen eat some food he has in the Dog House, only to find someone has started a fire using a garbage can full of burning charcoal. After they put out the fire, Ace & Colleen's noses touch, falling in love. While chatting about their lives as orphans and Ace's dream, Colleen accidentally knocks down a vase when feeling angry about hearing Bugsy's name, which contains a duck puppet named Quackers, a toy that appears in Ace's earliest memory. With Quackers is a note that reveals that Ace's Uncle Harry was Ace's real father who had left him years before. Ace realizes that Bugsy Them killed his real father ("Dun Dun Dun Dun").
The next day, while Ace and Colleen stroll down the dock, Bugsy spies on them and orders Mad Dog to kill them. Mad Dog's obedience training gets the better of him, as Ace and Colleen repeatedly use words like "stay" and "roll over" in their conversation, and Mad Dog follows their commands, ultimately ending up in the harbor. Later, Ace and Colleen return to the Dog House, where Colleen sings "A Dog's Best Friend" to a mesmerized audience of male dogs, with a final note that breaks all of the glass in the building. During the ensuing ruckus, Colleen is kidnapped by Them's lackies. Ace is given a note by Bugsy, asking for 10,000 dog bones in exchange for Colleen. Ace asks for help from the patrons at the Dog House, but almost every single dog in the building leaves cowardly again when he suggests that Them can't kill all of them.
Ace confronts Them and Colleen escapes her gags and rope while Ace distracts them using the Pekingese art of "Whyioughta". But when Them and his gang try to kill Ace, Colleen drives a car into the gangsters. A chase through the city ensues (accompanied by dramatic piano music provided by Rowlf, who always wanted to take his act on the road). In the chase, Scruffy, Laughing Boy and Mad Dog are launched into a billboard (Rowlf: "How come all the losers wind up in advertising?"). Miss Belle attempts to tell Bugsy they've lost, but Them doesn't know the meaning of the word lost (though Mad Dog does).
At the docks, Ace and Colleen get caught by Bugsy and Belle, who're preparing to shoot them. Colleen knocks Belle off the harbor as she and Ace escape from Bugsy to hide. Ace gets Colleen to run while he distracts Bugsy with Quackers. As the final battle ensues, Ace places Quackers on Bugsy's tail to distract him and his tail gets shot in the process. Refusing to accept defeat, Bugsy almost shoots him until Colleen steps on a broken piece of the harbor as Bugsy falls. As the police arrive, Ace proposes to Colleen, who accepts (having always dreamed of the day "When I'm Colleen Yu").
Rowlf ends the special by announcing that they got married and lived happily ever after...at least until their place was ransacked and burned to the ground by a marauding band of renegade sheep. "You know, I knew once a dog named Jeff; hated sheep so much that he used to hunt 'em down and eat 'em. Folks called him 'Mutton Jeff'. Now that's a dog joke..."
Throughout the special, there are several instances of breaking the 4th wall, such as Ace and Colleen noting that saying "Dun Dun Dun Dun" brings out a musical cue, or Rowlf hitting dramatic chords on his piano.
- Ace's name ("I'm Yu." "You're me?")
- Dogs howling at the sound of a word ("How...?" "HOWL!" or "And accidentally fell off the roof!" "Roof!")
- "Dun Dun Dun Dun" is a music cue.
- Whenever Ace mentions that the dogs should help fight Bugsy, everyone promptly leaves (Rowlf: I think that's body language for yikes!")
- Laughing Boy making bad jokes (Ace: "It's just me and you!" Laughing Boy: "And a dog named Boo!")
- Dog Years: Rowlf says that 1930 is 13,510 in dog years. Bugsy Them says that he had Mad Dog in Obedience School "for 2, I mean 14 years." Later, Ace finds Quackers and learns he got him on his "first...er, seventh birthday."
- Jim Henson won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Directing in A Variety or Music Program for this special.
- Several dogs from this special recreated the actual Dogs Playing Poker painting in the "I'm Doggin' It" number for The Muppets at Walt Disney World.
- The arms of the puppeteer performing Rowlf's left hand can be seen.
- Some puppeteers appear beneath the dogs during the crowd scene at the Dog House.
- As Mad Dog follows Scruffy and Laughing Boy down the hall to Bugsy Them's room, Steve Whitmire's arm is seen.
- The edge of the pit in which the puppeteers stand in is seen when Ace first meets Colleen.
Cast and characters
- Kevin Clash as Ace Yu
- Jerry Nelson as Bubba and Spot
- Jim Henson as Bugsy Them and Rowlf the Dog
- Fran Brill as Colleen Barker
- Rickey Boyd as Laughing Boy and Mac
- Steve Whitmire as Mad Dog and Mac
- Camille Bonora as Miss Belle and Dalmatian Army Member
- Rob Mills as Quackers
- Gordon Robertson as Scruffy