"Courage the Cowardly Dog": Nobody Here But Us Chickens
Courage the Cowardly Dog plays out basically like a combination of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? and Lemmings. The title character is a pink dog of predictable temperament. He lives in “The Middle of Nowhere” (“Nowhere” here is both a noun and an adjective) with his elderly owners, Muriel and Eustace Bagge. Muriel is kind, Eustace is rude and sadistic; both are constantly being menaced by whatever monster or villain or force of nature happens to be threatening Nowhere on that particular day. Courage’s role in the show is to protect them, a task he performs enthusiastically if with visible effort. Those villains, for the record, include an alien chicken, an evil barber, and a giant, talking, gangster foot. So no, this is not a boring show.
It is, however, rather low-key, despite the on-screen lunacy. The show is very creative, both in its visuals and in its writing, but the animation never really does either aspect justice. There are a few exceptions—Courage’s double-takes are very well done—but for the most part the show is animated far too calmly. This is most apparent when the series is at its most anarchic; one might hope that the mixture of mundane and outrageous would go well together, but that is not often the case here, and several episodes that could have been great—“The Precious, Wonderful, Adorable, Lovable Duckling” and “The Clutching Foot” come to mind—ultimately suffer as a result. Only the odd use of CGI is really noteworthy, and it is utilized very well only in “King Ramses Curse,” and in most other instances is only a distraction.
Visuals aside, the show has a lot going for it on a conceptual level. Its central theme—a coward who has to force himself to be heroic—is very appealing, and it’s complemented by its dog-protects-his-owners premise.
Courage himself is a fun character; there’s something undeniably likable about the way he reluctantly forces himself to fight against overwhelming odds, especially because his goals are so noble. One odd quirk in these early episodes is that no one writer seems to agree on how much he should speak; he’ll regularly switch from delivering monologues to communicating only through incomprehensible babble. The schizophrenic way the speech is treated can grate, but the voice acting is sound; Marty Grabstein, who provides his voice and his babbling, deserves credit for giving a performance tailor-made for a neurotic pink dog. The voices for Muriel and Eustace are equally strong; they are such convincing caricatures of a kind old lady and a cranky old man that one wonders if the person in charge of casting was just grabbing genuine examples off the street. The voices for the episodic villains are also uncommonly good; my personal favorites are the Duck Brothers a trio of extraterrestrial ducks who are voiced bizarrely (but very well) by Ringo Starr.
The show has a pseudo-horror feel to it that makes one think of Scooby Doo but probably owes more to the horror movies it spoofs. Some of the episodes manage to be quite creepy despite the ongoing silliness. It’s true that this first season of Courage is rather hit-or-miss, and for every “Freaky Fred” there’s a “Mother’s Day,” but the good bits are good enough to make the set worth watching.
Purchase recommended, “Season Two” hoped for.