An $80 million dog? ‘Gunther’s Millions’ has some but not all of the answers

Four-part Netflix doc makes too much of a saga full of gimmicks and fakery.

SHARE An $80 million dog? ‘Gunther’s Millions’ has some but not all of the answers
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Maurizio Mian, the eccentric trustee of a dog’s inherited fortune, pets a German shepherd who may or may not be related to the one at the center of “Gunther’s Millions.”

Netflix

The Netflix documentary series “Gunther’s Millions” has many of the key ingredients to become a meme-worthy, Twitter-trending, binge-inducing hit. It’s based on an infamous story from the 20th century, there’s a lovable animal at the center of it all, the man responsible for all the madness detailed here is a mercurial and duplicitous charmer — and just about everyone who is interviewed looks and sounds like they’re auditioning to become a breakout celebrity character a la that Joe Exotic idiot from “Tiger King.”

That’s also the problem with “Gunther’s Millions.” While the story is initially fascinating and there are a few colorful characters sprinkled throughout, we often get lost in the weeds as the narrative swings this way and that, and the entire project feels a little too contrived and gimmicky, and populated with interview subjects who aren’t nearly as interesting as they fancy themselves to be. After four episodes, we’re left with as many questions as answers.

You might recall reading about the dog who bought Madonna’s Miami mansion in 2000 and sold it recently for some $29 million, or if you’ve been around for a while like certain reviewers, you have vague memories of news features from the 1990s about the German shepherd named Gunther known as the richest animal in the world. Director Aurelien Leturgie takes us through the Gunther saga, which is equal parts pop culture fable and hoax. (Maybe more of the latter.)

‘Gunther’s Millions’

Untitled

A four-part documentary series available Wednesday on Netflix.

In 1992, the German Countess Karlotta Leibenstein left her entire $80 million trust to her beloved dog, Gunther III, with her will dictating the money would go to Gunther’s descendants in the years to come. Sure, why not. Maurizio Mian, the scion of a Italian pharmaceutical manufacturer and a close family friend of the countess as well as her late son (also named Gunther), who had died by suicide, was put in charge of the finances, effectively speaking for Gunther.

To say Mian is an eccentric character is to put it oh so mildly; as we see in archival footage, old news features and present-day interviews, Mian is a hedonistic, publicity-seeking missile who formed pseudo-pop bands of great-looking people who lived in Gunther’s mansion, were under 24-hour surveillance and were encouraged to participate in free love experiments as part of Mian’s “vision” to create some sort of scientifically engineered super race. And if that sounds like creepy, cult-like, eugenics stuff to you, I agree.

Oh, and Mian also bought a football club and put the Italian porn star Cicciolina in charge, and he’s into cloning, and on and on it goes.

We get a steady stream of interviews with former employees and associates of Mian’s, who recount the craziness surrounding Gunther and Gunther’s descendants and the Gunther doppelgangers who sometimes stood in for Gunther on TV. There’s a dark detour where we learn about the horrific abuse of German shepherds related to Gunther, and some slow reveals about the Countess Karlotta and her son — and seeing as how news organizations have been poking holes in Mian’s story for years, it’s hardly a spoiler to reveal they didn’t exist. Mian concocted the whole story to publicize his various ventures, and his actual money came from his family’s company.

Near the end of the tale, Mian pets a German shepherd who might be a descendant of Gunther’s or is perhaps just a very good boy being used as a prop, and he says, “I believe this animal can ... show humans a more suitable way to live, closer to nature, closer to joy and happiness.” Great, that’s a lovely sentiment, but by this point, Mian, your shtick has grown tired.

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